Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak about Bill C-55, an act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. The bill would help protect our marine and coastal areas, and it would bring us closer to our 10% marine conservation target by the end of 2020.
Before I get into the substance of the amendment and the bill, I would like to thank the sponsor of the bill in the other place. I know that it is because of her passion for protecting our marine and coastal areas that we are here today debating the bill before we can see it pass and in action providing interim protection for our oceans.
While we commend the work of members of the other place and the important discussions that took place when the bill was under consideration in the other chamber, we are unable to support the amendments that were made at committee and subsequently passed.
However, in debating the motion today, we are proposing an amendment that we believe would capture the intent of the amendment from the other place. The proposed amendment would, first, in line with the amendment on geographical location, require that the geographical location of a proposed area for interim protection be published when an order was made, along with other information relevant and necessary to the order.
Second, as we have maintained, the amendment on consultations by the member of the other place representing Nunavut is indeed already covered by existing legislation and regulations. That is why our amendment proposes to require that consultations undertaken to establish the interim protection MPA be published upon an order being made. We have said repeatedly that consultations are required, so now the government would ensure that we showed that consultations had taken place for the interim protection MPA to be established in the first place.
Discussions in the other place looked at the importance of consultation and engagement, which will continue to be the foundation for establishing all marine protected areas, or MPAs, now and in the future.
Bill C-55 does not weaken our commitment to develop MPAs in collaboration with governments, partners, stakeholders and the public. This bill does not take shortcuts in establishing MPAs. It does not eliminate any steps. In fact, it provides new tools to make sure we are protecting more of our marine environment.
As members know, the purpose of the bill is to allow the optional use of a new mechanism to provide interim protection for an ecologically sensitive marine area and to freeze the footprint of activities in the area following initial science and consultations with our many partners and stakeholders. This freeze on ongoing activities would be in place for five years, during which additional science and consultations would continue as part of the process to establish a permanent marine protected area.
The proposed ability to provide interim protection is a common-sense approach that would respond to the reality that during the seven to 10 years it takes to establish an MPA, nothing is protected. With the new interim protection provision, some measure of protection would be provided, in the spirit of the precautionary approach.
The bill would also modernize enforcement powers, which would bring the act in line with other environmental legislation. These new powers would be important for ensuring the effectiveness of our 13 current marine protected areas and for meeting each of their conservation objectives.
The discussion in the other place on amendments focused predominantly on, one, ensuring that communities most affected were part of the consultation process, and two, fulfilling our duty to consult with indigenous peoples, as required under section 35 of the Constitution.
I would like to assure members of this chamber that our government takes both of these requirements very seriously. Engagement, consultations and consideration of socio-economic information and traditional knowledge are fundamental cornerstones to establishing marine protected areas and, indeed, for interim protection under this bill.
I commend the members of the other place for their commitment to these issues and for ensuring that their regions are well represented in the debate on Bill C-55.
We consult and collaborate with a wide range of governments and marine resource users as well as other stakeholders, experts and the public at various stages, including the following: at the outset, to select an area of interest; when gathering information needed about the ecological importance of a sensitive marine area, the socio-economic conditions related to the area and any current or planned activities that may be of concern; when identifying initial boundaries and conservation objectives for an area based on the best available science, including traditional and local knowledge and a risk analysis; and when developing a proposed regulatory approach and studying the benefits and costs of such an approach. There is also a 30-day public comment period when the regulations are pre-published in the Canada Gazette. We consult on an ongoing basis to provide input to the development of the management plan for an area, and of course, MPAs are collaboratively managed with local partners once designated. Furthermore, sections 29 to 33 of the current Oceans Act explicitly outline required consultations.
As pointed out by the sponsor of the bill in the other place, based on an analysis by Professor Nigel Bankes, from the University of Calgary, the change proposed by the member of the other place representing Nunavut is a piecemeal amendment that is counter to the spirit and intent of the proposed interim protection provision. It would only serve to slow down a process where the objective is to do quite the opposite, which is to provide early protection to areas on an interim basis and following the precautionary approach.
Senator Patterson’s amendment and, indeed, his explanation are based on the need to ensure that consultations take place. As I previously stated, sections 29 to 33 in the Oceans Act already provide for this, and all legislation must respect section 35 of the Constitution.
Furthermore, an amendment put forth by the member for Nunavut, which is based on a request from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and supported by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, was passed by the House committee and would ensure that all interim protection orders would be consistent with existing land claim agreements. Therefore, I respectfully suggest that the amendment from the member of the other place is unnecessary. As Professor Bankes stated, it would add requirements to establishing interim protections that are greater than what is required when establishing a permanent MPA and would curtail the application of the precautionary approach.
Professor Bankes writes:
since the amendment is only proposed to apply to the creation of MPAs by ministerial order and not to the process of creating an MPA by Order in Council and regulation, it will arguably be more difficult to use the ministerial order process than the MPA by regulation process.
I hope members will agree that this is neither logical nor consistent with the purpose of the bill. As the parliamentary secretary on this file, it is my view that we cannot continue to allow areas of ecological significance to go unprotected. This bill helps to achieve that without shortchanging consultations with provinces and territories, indigenous peoples, coastal communities and stakeholders.
Many members will recall that in 2012, the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development commented on the slow pace of establishing marine protected areas in Canadian waters. The report stated:
During the 20 years since Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, 10 federal MPAs have been established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada as part of their marine protected area programs. Federal, provincial and territorial governments and non-governmental organizations are collectively protecting about 1 percent of Canada's oceans and Great Lakes through MPAs. At the current rate of progress, it will take many decades for Canada to establish a fully functioning MPA network and achieve the target established in 2010 under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to conserve 10 percent of marine areas.
It is worth noting that we have come a long way over the past four years since our government took office in that we have increased our marine protected and coastal areas from less than 1% to over 8%.
However, the process continues to remain long and comprehensive. It still takes years to establish an MPA, but under Bill C-55, we have an opportunity to provide early protection for sensitive and ecologically significant areas that support the health of our oceans and the coastal communities that depend on them.
The report by the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development also identified the following factors that affected the rate of progress in creating MPAs: prolonged jurisdictional negotiations, including unresolved land claims; a poor understanding by Canadians of the environmental and socio-economic benefits of MPAs; delays in the approval process; lengthy legislative and regulatory processes; and the competing interests of stakeholders.
In terms of the latter point, I will refer to a letter submitted by the QIA, which represents over 15,000 Inuit, regarding the need to ensure that the interim designation process respects the rights of the Inuit. The letter expresses QIA's opposition to Senator Patterson's amendment.
President Akeeagok writes:
The further proposed amendment under consideration...would require the Minister to hold an additional public comment and consultation period before issuing an interim MPA order. We are concerned that this proposed amendment risks undermining the actualization of Inuit rights by conflating the requirement to uphold the rights of Inuit with a broader engagement with the interests of stakeholders. The current version of Bill C-55, sets out the appropriate hierarchy.
West Coast Environmental Law also spoke out against the amendment in its letter dated March 20, 2019. It states:
The proposed amendment would require the Minister to hold a public comment and consultation period before issuing an interim MPA order. We are concerned that this proposed amendment is redundant and, at worst, risks defeating the purpose of the interim MPA order.
Their letter also emphasizes that aboriginal rights and indigenous interests are, indeed, protected by the government’s constitutional obligations and the Oceans Act.
As mentioned earlier, I believe this amendment represents a piecemeal effort to improving consultations and, rather than adding value to the process, is redundant and only serves one single section of the bill.
As Professor Bankes put it:
The result of this amendment, if adopted, will be to create a stand-alone set of consultation provisions with respect to a single section and a single power within the statute. This is not a logical approach to address and improve the standard of consultation, nor an approach that will provide certainty with respect to consultation. It will simply beg more questions than it answers with respect to issues such as what the rules are (or should be) with respect to other powers within this same statute.
I would also like to speak to the redundancy of the amendment regarding the requirement to post the approximate geographical location of a proposed protected area on the DFO website and to make a preliminary assessment of any habitat or species in that area before making an order for interim protection. Let me explain some of the reasons this is redundant.
We already meet the requirement to clearly identify and provide public information on the proposed boundaries for an area to be protected as well as details on the area’s important ecological features, such as its habitat and species.
Developing and making this information available to the public is already required under the federal regulatory process, as outlined in the Statutory Instruments Act and the Cabinet Directive on Regulations.
Marine protected areas are a globally and scientifically proven way to protect marine biodiversity and preserve special marine features. They also help restore our natural capital for the benefit of future generations, supporting the long-term sustainable use of our marine resources and the economic benefits this protection provides. This in turn has a direct and positive impact on coastal communities which rely on healthy oceans.
In short, marine conservation is an essential and integral part of long-term economic planning and helps us better prepare for the impacts of climate change. However, all of this is a moot point if we do not have the right mechanisms in place to establish marine protected areas in a more timely fashion both when and where it is needed. It is simply not acceptable to wait seven to 10 years to protect ecologically sensitive areas in our ocean.
Climate change, global warming and ocean acidification mean that time is no longer on our side, which is why our government has gone to great lengths and held extensive consultations to amend the Oceans Act. I submit that the two amendments put forward by the other place, while right in their intent, will actually hinder the work that needs to be done to protect our marine and coastal areas.
As such, we respectfully reject the amendment by the Senate and propose that an amendment that we believe fulfills the intent of the Senate amendment is accepted. This will help us protect our oceans in a more timely manner while we continue to consult with Canadians, apply the precautionary approach and make scientifically informed decisions.
I trust we can move forward with these important measures that are designed to protect our oceans and coasts for the benefit of all Canadians.