Mr. Speaker, nearly two years after it was first introduced, I have the honour to speak to Bill C-55, an act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, a bill that has the support of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
Before I get to the collaborative motion we are debating today, in response to the message received from the other place a little over a week ago, I would like to correct some inaccuracies that have come out in members' comments on this motion.
First, the member for Sherbrooke said that we have protected just 1.5% of our marine areas to date, that we missed our 2017 target and that, according to him, we are on track to miss our target of 10% in 2020. With all due respect, the member's figures are completely wrong. Perhaps he was talking about the former Conservative government's record. I assure the House that those figures do not apply to this government, and I would like to clarify the facts.
To date, under the direction of the current Liberal government, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and our Prime Minister, we have protected 8.27% of our marine and coastal areas, compared to only 1% under the previous Conservative government. In fact, before reaching 8.27%, we announced in October 2017 that we had reached the objective of 5%.
With respect to the environment and the protection of marine biodiversity, our government is implementing the measures Canadians want and expect. In spite of what the member for Sherbrooke said last week, we have effectively reached our objectives and we are on track to reach our 10% objective in 2020.
The member for Sherbrooke also stated that the current government's standards for marine protected areas were not very high. I would like to remind the House that last month, at the Nature Champions Summit in Montreal, the government and the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard showed great leadership by announcing new standards for marine protected areas in order to strengthen conservation and the protection of important marine habitats.
The announcement means that marine protected areas will operate a bit like national parks and ensure a high level of protection of the environment by banning four industrial activities in these zones, namely oil and gas activities, mining, discharging, and bottom trawling. This approach is consistent with the recommendations of the National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area Standards.
In fact, Oceana, the main marine protection agency, said that this announcement of standards for marine protected areas is a great step forward and will help ensure appropriate protection for Canada's most important marine areas; that marine protected areas meeting these standards will help protect fragile habitats that provide nursery, spawning and feeding areas for marine wildlife from harmful practices such as oil and gas activities and bottom-contact gear; that it is also a critical step toward rebuilding abundance and restoring our oceans to health, which will benefit coastal communities for generations to come.
The day the announcement was made, Megan Leslie, former NDP member, tweeted the “announcement by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans on new standards for marine protection: no oil and gas, no mining, no bottom trawling.” She said she was at a bit of a loss for words. The tweet ended with emoijs of applause, trophies, and celebration.
The government's achievements in marine environmental protection really do deserve to be celebrated and applauded. The government is committed to protecting the environment, and that is just what this motion and bill are meant to do.
Now that I have corrected certain inaccurate statements made during last week's debate, I would like to talk about this motion on the Senate amendment.
The message we received from the other place just over a week ago contains one duplicative amendment. If adopted, it would make the interim protection process more complex and costly than the process of designating a permanent marine protected area.
That would go against the purpose of the bill, which is to provide protection to our marine areas more quickly while ensuring that exhaustive consultations continue. However, the government is also listening. We understand the concerns of the honourable senators in the other place, and we agree that the provincial and territorial governments, as well as the communities that will be most affected by an interim or permanent order concerning a marine protected area, should always be consulted and be part of the process.
That is why we proposed an amendment to the Senate amendment that takes the concerns that have been raised into consideration. First, the amendment requires the minister, when making an interim protection order, to publish a report indicating the geographic location and any other relevant information, including social, cultural and economic information.
The amendment goes even further. As we have always said regarding the duplicative Senate amendment on consultations, since consultations are already explicitly required and covered by sections 29 to 33 of the Oceans Act, the minister would also be required to publish information on past consultations.
The government has listened, and we know we can move forward in the right way with this bill and the proposed amendment.
The purpose of this bill is simply to provide another tool to protect marine environments by creating a mechanism that will enable the minister to freeze the footprint of activities currently under way in an area until a definitive designation is revoked or until it receives a permanent marine protected area designation.
On average, it takes between seven and 10 years to establish a marine protected area. All this bill would do is temporarily protect an area until permanent designation can be obtained, which is something Canadians support. Considering the important aspects of marine environments that need protecting and the fact that it takes between seven and 10 years to establish a marine protected area, if we want to ensure long-term protection for an area, we need to adopt this bill. This common-sense measure establishes certain protection standards until such time as an area is designated.
I would add that this bill has been before both houses for nearly two years now. The House committee alone met nine times to discuss it and heard from 36 witnesses representing a broad range of important interest groups.
Earlier I talked about last month's announcement by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard about new standards for marine protected areas and the support we have received on this issue not only here at home but around the world. Clearly, there is now tremendous support for protecting our oceans, so what are we waiting for? Let's adopt this bill and protect our oceans for our children and grandchildren.
I live near the coast, and we are already seeing major changes happening very fast. Over the past four or five years, the Gulf of St. Lawrence has warmed up faster than any other marine environment on the planet. We must act now to save species and the environment.