Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be here today to talk about the message to the Senate on Bill C-55, a bill that will amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act.
First, I want to thank the parliamentary secretary, the member for Charlottetown, for starting the debate off last Friday and for his work on this file. I would also like to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for supporting this bill and for echoing the need to have this type of legislation so that we can move forward with protecting our marine spaces.
I would like to begin with an overview of the bill we are debating today, then an overview of the motion itself.
Bill C-55 seeks a new ministerial order instrument to establish interim protection marine protected areas to protect ecologically sensitive and important marine areas in cases where initial science and consultations tell us it is urgently needed.
The process to establish interim protection will not be a shortcut to any science and consultation processes that are integral to how we establish marine protected areas today.
The fundamental principle underlying interim protection is the application of the precautionary principle. This principle is not new under Bill C-55. It is already found in many pieces of modern environmental legislation. It is also consistent with the Privy Council Office's framework on precaution, elaborated in 2013. This framework outlines guiding principles for the application of precaution to science-based decision-making in areas of federal regulatory activity for the protection of health and safety, the environment and the conservation of natural resources.
Indeed, we have received the bill with an amendment. While we respectfully reject the amendment, we are adding an amendment that we feel respects the intent of the amendment from the other place. As indicated by government officials during Senate committee deliberation, as well as expressed by members in the the other place during third reading, the amendment proposed is duplicative and would also make the interim protection of a marine protected area process more complex than the designation of a permanent marine protected area. Therefore, the amendment would go against the very objective of the bill to provide faster protection and to freeze the footprint of activities in areas where we are proposing a permanent designation, all while ensuring that we continue our high standard of consultations.
Let me explain.
The first part of the amendment from the other place requires that the approximate geographical location and a preliminary assessment of any habitat or species in the area be published prior to an order for interim protection being made. This is already covered under the cabinet directive on regulations, which requires all regulatory process to be open and transparent. This is the reason why, today, one can go online to look at an area of interest, which is the first step in the current process of developing a permanent MPA, and see a description of the area, a map of the area and all other relevant information, such as the key objectives.
The second part of the amendment, which was added by Senator Patterson, would require an additional consultation period to take place outside what is already required under the Oceans Act and the Gazette process. This amendment would add another consultation period that is, at minimum, 60 days, and would require the government to respond to all comments within 30 days. That brings the added consultation period to a possible 90 days before an order can be made. Indeed, this only applies to the interim process and would therefore make the interim designation process more complex than the process for a permanent designation.
As I have mentioned, these amendments were also duplicative. The current Oceans Act already explicitly outlines consultation requirements under sections 29 through 33. As mentioned on Friday by the parliamentary secretary, section 33 states under the oceans management strategy:
(1) In exercising the powers and performing the duties and functions assigned to the Minister by this Act, the Minister
(a) shall cooperate with other ministers, boards and agencies of the Government of Canada, with provincial and territorial governments and with affected aboriginal organizations, coastal communities and other persons and bodies, including those bodies established under land claims agreements;
(b) may enter into agreements with any person or body or with another minister, board or agency of the Government of Canada;
(c) shall gather, compile, analyse, coordinate and disseminate information;...
For these reasons, our government is rejecting these changes and proposing an amendment that we believe captures the intent of the message from the other place. This amendment will require the geographical location and all other relevant information to be published, along with the consultations that were undertaken when an order is made. This will ensure that the information that communities need will be provided, and that the process for interim protection is streamlined to ensure that protection is provided in a manner consistent with the objective of this bill. That is, to provide faster protection on an interim basis to marine areas until a decision, after comprehensive consultations are undertaken, is made on whether to designate the interim area as a permanent MPA.
This bill was first introduced in the House of Commons on June 15, 2017. Since then it has had the benefit of many hours of debate, discussion and review. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans spent a great deal of time carefully reviewing its proposals. From October to December 2017, that committee heard views and opinions from many orders of government, partners, stakeholders and experts on the bill. Following this in-depth review, the committee made five amendments to the bill that were proposed by Conservative, Green and independent members, which were adopted by the House on April 25, 2018.
The House of Commons committee's amendments add new and important elements to the bill without undermining its spirit and intent. This bill is truly one of those rare bills that has had co-operation and agreement at the committee stage by all parties, and I urge all members to put their partisanship aside to support a non-partisan issue of protecting our oceans.
Since February 2019, the committee in the other place has further reviewed Bill C-55, hearing from more witnesses and experts. I am grateful for the effort and attention paid by the other place to this important legislative proposal. However, their additional amendments do not align with the spirit of Bill C-55 to apply interim protection in a timely manner.
Consultation is the cornerstone of effective oceans protection in Canada. The transparency we will exercise for interim protection will be no less than for establishing more permanent marine protected areas.
What is our current practice? We consult and collaborate with provinces, territories and indigenous groups. We include marine resource users, such as fisheries groups, aquaculture groups, the oil and gas sector, mining, shipping, tourism and other stakeholders. We reach out to other experts, such as environmental groups, academics and various community members. Finally, we also, of course, consult with the public.
All of this collaboration is extensive and conducted at various stages of the process. Advisory committees with partners, indigenous groups and interested and affected partners are established to provide input to this work.
We consult at the outset, to identify and select an area needing protection; to gather information about the ecological importance of a sensitive marine area, the socio-economic considerations related to the area and any current or planned activities that may be of concern; to identify initial boundaries and conservation objectives for an area based on the best available science, including indigenous and local knowledge and a risk analysis; to develop a proposed regulatory approach and study the benefits and costs of such an approach, including a 30-day public comment period when the regulations are pre-published in the Canada Gazette, part I; and on an ongoing basis to provide input to the development of the management plan for the area.
Over and above this extensive consultation, marine protected areas are collaboratively managed with local partners through an adaptive management approach wherein ongoing science and socio-economic and cultural information are all considered.
This government is committed to both the precautionary principle and the need for ongoing scientific analysis and consultation. Our commitment to science and consultation does not end once interim protection is in place. These activities would continue for up to five years, with an aim to establishing a permanent marine protected area. We continue to consult and improve our scientific understanding of the area following its establishment, as part of ongoing management efforts.
Bill C-55 reflects the government's commitment to indigenous rights and the requirement to respect the duty to consult and accommodate. This requirement is already provided for within common law. Moreover, the Oceans Act and the cabinet directive on regulation recognize the importance of working with and consulting indigenous organizations.
In addition, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans added an amendment to Bill C-55 to reiterate that marine protected areas establishment cannot be conducted in a manner that is inconsistent with any land claims agreement.
Bill C-55 will go a long way toward ensuring that as Canadians we protect our marine ecosystems. Supporting the health of our oceans is essential so that we can benefit from the unique and precious marine ecosystems and resources that we will rely on for generations to come. Canadians are counting on us to protect our oceans.
Our marine protection work seeks to preserve ecosystems and species to ensure that Canada's marine resources can continue to support sustainable industries, local economies and coastal communities. As we progress, Canada's marine protected areas will become part of a global network that will contribute to healthier and more sustainable oceans for generations.
Many senators supported passing this bill as quickly as possible. However, here in the House, two years after the bill was introduced, despite the amendments agreed to by all parties in committee, the Conservatives continue to oppose this bill. That is disappointing but not surprising because, unlike our government and our Prime Minister, who have a plan for the environment, the Conservatives have no plan to protect the environment or to address climate change.
I believe that Bill C-55 is a very significant step in the right direction, and I am confident that all members will agree. Bill C-55 has been subject to thorough parliamentary review, as well as public debate and discussion, for nearly two years. The time to act is now. With interim protection, we will be able to act now to protect our oceans from coast to coast to coast.