Madam Speaker, I am very pleased and honoured to rise today and speak to Bill C-55, a very important bill and one of particular significance to me, coming from Vancouver, British Columbia, where the coastline, the oceans and the marine species are so absolutely critical to our economy, culture, people, indigenous nations and, frankly, to our way of life. This bill really speaks to the need to look at our marine areas in a different way, and to start to treasure them and protect them for future generations.
I am pleased to say that our party will support Bill C-55, albeit with some reservations, which I will outline in my remarks.
I want to start by saying that I am disappointed that the government has once again used time allocation. In other words, the government has cut off and limited debate on this bill. This is the 71st time in this Parliament that the Liberals have used time allocation, which is one of the most undemocratic tools that a government can use. It cuts off debate and hinders parliamentarians who, after all, have been sent here to express our positions on behalf of our constituents. It shows a disrespect for Parliament and all Canadians, who elect us to come here to represent them and to ensure that their voices are heard and reflected in the debates in this House.
I sat in the last Parliament when the Conservatives used closure 100 times, and I am starting to see very little difference between Liberals and Conservatives in terms of their fundamental disrespect for the democratic traditions of this chamber.
Interestingly, I heard the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader refer to the budget and describe how one of the Conservatives, by speaking for 15 hours, denied other members the right to speak, yet he does so himself, having risen in this House to introduce a motion to cut off debate. That denies all sorts of members in this House the right to speak. Canadians should be aware of that fundamental disrespect of their rights and democracy.
In British Columbia, as in other areas of the country in the north and on the Atlantic coast, on our coasts, watersheds and oceans, the sea life, the pre-eminent species that reside on the coasts—the orcas and dolphins and of course the iconic salmon, as well as the sea lions and eagles and all other species—are of absolutely profound importance to our entire ecosystem, and when we say “ecosystem”, we are not just talking about ecology. It is part of our economy as well.
I know the Liberals are fond of saying that we have to balance the environment and the economy. Actually, I think we need to go farther than that: We need to recognize that the environment provides the fundamental capital that makes all economic activity possible. When we do not place protection of the environment and our ecosystem first and foremost, we actually threaten our economy. That is what the government has done, repeatedly, through its policies over the last four years.
We use our oceans and our marine areas for recreation. We use enjoy nature there, and they are fundamentally part of the cultural and historic fabric of our indigenous nations. As I have said, they are part of our fundamental economy.
In Vancouver and in British Columbia, tourism and fishing and these kinds of economic activities depend on having a pristine and well-protected environmental system in our marine areas. It is absolutely critical. That is why we need sustainable policies. We need to balance economic activities to make sure that generations forever can enjoy, in a sustainable way, all the bounty of our marine areas.
I do not need to point out that these marine areas are precious and delicate and require extreme care and balance. In fact, we are simply stewards for all future generations of these areas.
There is an irony in the Liberal government patting itself on the back for protecting marine areas at the same time that it has bought the Trans Mountain Kinder Morgan pipeline, which will carry raw bitumen and triple the number of tankers through the Burrard Inlet, right into the marine areas that the government is trying to protect. This will threaten the southern orca population, and if there is ever any kind of spill, it will create an ecological disaster of unimaginable proportion, because bitumen sinks and there is no way to clean it up. As for the Liberals pretending to care about our marine environment, it is impossible to square that idea with their approval of a pipeline that presents probably the most disastrous threat to our marine environment on the west coast that we have seen in some time.
I want to pause for a moment and mention a recent situation that is of great concern to my constituency and the tens of thousands of Filipinos who live in my riding: the hazardous waste that originated in Canada that has been sent over these marine areas to developing nations, in this case to the Philippines.
In 2013 and 2014, a private Canadian company shipped 103 containers to the Philippines. They were labelled as plastics for recycling, even though they also contained waste, such as soiled diapers. These containers have been rotting in a port in the Philippines for years. The Filipino government has been asking Canada to take back this trash, which has been rotting at the port in Manila. Environmentally concerned people in the Philippines were failed by two governments, the Conservatives and now the Liberals, at least until recently, and the Filipino-Canadian population in my riding desperately wants Canada to take back its garbage, quit using developing countries as a dumping ground for our trash over the marine areas and compensate the Government of the Philippines for all its costs in having to deal with this environmental offence over the last number of years.
I will turn to Bill C-55.
This bill would provide some new legal tools to speed up the creation of marine protected areas, MPAs, but it falls short of Canada's environmental and international commitments to protect our marine biodiversity. The bill fails to set a minimum protection standard and targets for zoning for marine protected areas, and while the government recently announced new standards for marine protected areas, we are concerned that omitting them from Bill C-55, from the legislation itself, and instead relegating them to regulations opens them up to easy reversal under a future government. This process would give the minister far too much latitude to decide what activities are permissible in an MPA. The government's new standards would not be enshrined in law and would therefore be easier to undo under a future minister.
As we have heard, Canada has pledged to the international community to protect 5% of Canada's marine areas by 2017 and 10% by 2020 with the aim to halt the destruction of habitats and ecosystems and to protect against the erosion that has gone on for decades under successive Conservative and Liberal governments. In fact, Liberal and Conservative governments have both failed to take meaningful action since signing the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity. That is 25 years of a commitment that has really been ignored by successive Liberal and Conservative governments.
I think Canadians would be somewhat shocked to know that most marine protected areas today still allow extractive fishing activity, and one even allows for oil and gas exploration. Thankfully, the government recently announced that it would prohibit oil and gas activities, mining, dumping and bottom trawling in MPAs, and that is a good thing. However, it stopped short of creating so-called no-take areas, which have long been the recommendation of conservation groups.
I would also point out that Canada has yet to adopt the IUCN international marine protection standard, and 15 university scientists from St. John's to Victoria have written to the former minister of fisheries and oceans and the current Minister of Environment and Climate Change to ask for stiffer conservation measures in Canada's 12 marine conservation areas, as well as those being proposed in the future. Imagine if we allowed hunters into international parks to hunt. I think that would be absolutely shocking to most Canadians, and totally unacceptable. Why then would we allow it in marine protected areas? The very name implies a marine area that we are protecting. Would we not say that in this one area, there is to be no activity that would extract any marine species or life in that area?
Ninety per cent of Canada's marine areas are open to extractive fishing, so we are not talking about creating a huge burden on Canada's fishing industry. However, if we are going to protect an area for future generations, then we should protect it, and that means not allowing any kind of economic activity other than enjoyment and tourism and people coming to visit those areas and leaving a soft footprint when they are there.
The NDP moved a number of amendments to this legislation that we felt would have made the legislation stronger. We had five objectives. We wanted to enshrine minimum protection standards in the act. Unfortunately, that was rejected by the Liberal government. We wanted to maintain ecological integrity as the primary objective of an MPA. We wanted to enshrine co-governance with indigenous peoples as the governing principle of this act and establish the authority of indigenous guardians, who have such a long, millennial, actually, relationship with these areas under their stewardship. We wanted to require the establishment of significant no-take zones, as I just mentioned. Finally, we wanted to facilitate the implementation of networks of MPAs, which, of course, would facilitate the movement of species from one MPA to another.
Unfortunately, the Liberals were not interested in our amendments. They did pass some Green amendments and one from an independent member that touched on themes similar to ours. Unfortunately, those amendments were diluted versions of our own. We would certainly have been happier if we had received a robust adoption of the principles I just highlighted.
I want to point out some quotes from some environmental and marine experts in this country that show how important this legislation is. I want to quote from West Coast Environmental Law. Its representative said:
The law is currently very inconsistent. As you've heard and will probably continue to hear, people are astonished to learn that oil and gas exploration, undersea mining, and damaging fishing activities are all possible in the tiny fraction of the sea that we [currently] call marine protected areas. That's why an unprecedented 70,000 Canadians, members of the public, spoke out about one of the proposed new MPAs, Laurentian Channel, and said that we need to keep harmful activities out of these areas.
That is simply common sense. Again, I will give the government credit for announcing last week that its policy would be to prohibit those activities other than establishing no-take areas. That is a very important development. Again, I am curious as to why the government did not see fit to enshrine those standards in the legislation itself, where they would have been far more entrenched and more difficult for any future government to unwind.
We did see, in the previous government, that the Conservatives did massive damage to our navigable waters act and to ecological principles, not only on water but on land and in air as well.
I want to comment for a moment on how important it is that we are going to prohibit bottom trawling. I quote:
The scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that bottom trawling has significant damaging impacts to sea floor ecosystems, and that no-take fishing areas are a key component of effective MPAs. Research shows that MPAs that permit varying levels of fishing and other activities are less effective at achieving biodiversity than fully protected areas.
International best practices suggest MPA core no-take zones should encompass 75% of a given MPA. Canada is nowhere close to reaching that high bar....
Right now, the minister has the discretion to determine what activities are allowed in an MPA and how restrictive each zone in an MPA can be. So far, Canada's fisheries minister has implemented a no-take zone in only five MPAs [to date], and those areas are tiny when compared to the overall MPAs. Canada should follow international examples and make no-take zones the rule rather than the exception...[in] MPAs.
That was from our very excellent former fisheries critic, the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam, who has spent a lifetime in watershed development, river health and marine ecosystems.
I want to also take a moment to contrast this bill with the Canada National Parks Act. The Canada National Parks Act sets a high bar for maintaining ecological integrity in all national parks. However, marine protected areas lack the clear minimum protection standards that terrestrial parks benefit from.
The federal government recently announced that a national advisory panel would be established to provide the Ministry of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard with advice on minimum standards for future Oceans Act MPAs. This would still leave protection standards to the subjective judgment of the minister. Since fisheries ministers in the past have permitted seabed mining, oil and gas exploration and other industrial activities in MPAs, we do not have confidence in that discretion. Of course, that is based on empirical experience, not theoretical concerns. Therefore, the solution is to enshrine minimum protection standards in the legislation. The NDP would continue to urge the current government and future governments to take that very important step.
Our oceans are a critical part of our country. They are critical to our economy, our culture and our social relations. They are enjoyed by millions of Canadians from coast to coast. Therefore, in the same way we want to ensure that we continue to expand our protection for natural terrestrial parks, we need to do the same in marine areas. To do that, there can be no half measures. We should not be quibbling. We should be having world-class, cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, complete protection of marine biodiversity in all marine protected areas. Frankly, given that it is still such a small percentage of the vast oceans that many members in this House have already commented on, with Canada, I believe, having the largest coastline in the world, I think the case can strongly be made that in those few small areas we are protecting, we should protect them completely.
The New Democrats will be voting in support of this legislation, because it makes the designation of marine protected areas easier and faster, which is a good thing. We support the government's policy announcement last week that it will strengthen and tighten the kinds of damaging industrial and commercial activities that frankly gut the purpose of marine protected areas. However, we will be pushing the government in every positive way we can to make sure that this legislation responds in a more positive way to the concerns that have been raised, because it is not quite there yet.
I want to conclude my remarks by talking about the indigenous nations in Canada. In the New Democrats' view, reconciliation should be part of all legislation. Additional designations are welcome tools, but it does not make sense, in our view, to exclude the explicit recognition of indigenous rights in the Oceans Act. Given the implications of MPAs on indigenous constitutional rights, we believe this omission is irresponsible, and frankly, inconsistent with the current government's stated objective of pursuing reconciliation. The federal government's commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to working in a true nation-to-nation relationship with Canada's indigenous peoples is something we need to make a reality. Every time the government introduces legislation that does not make an explicit and strong reference to those indigenous rights, we see it as a missed opportunity and evidence that the government's commitment to reconciliation is more one of words than of action.
I will conclude with this. British Columbians are very proud of our west coast. New Democrats are very proud to be strong defenders of those coasts and all the species that live within them. That is why we are going to continue to fight hard against irresponsible pipeline decisions that threaten our coast. We are going to fight for strong environmental protections for all marine areas, for the expansion of those areas and for 100% protection of those marine protected areas so that all species, from the orca to the salmon to the human, who enjoy those areas can continue to enjoy them for millennia to come.