Madam Speaker, in response to my colleague's question, climate is what people expect and weather is what they get. That is the simple definition.
What is a marine protected area? Obviously it is an area that is considered important and in need of some kind of protection. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. Marine protected areas are actually quite difficult to do. They are three-dimensional columns of water, where a lot of things are going on inside that column of water. By comparison, terrestrial conservation areas are much easier to deal with.
I would like to comment on what my friend from Cypress Hills—Grasslands said a minute ago. He talked about stewardship. When it comes to environmental conservation, local people on the ground, conducting stewardship activities and using the knowledge they have learned over generations, is by far the better way than the top-down environmental regulation that the government prefers.
What are some of the problems with marine protected areas? For example, what are they actually going to accomplish? My colleague across the way talked about an area off Victoria, Race Rocks. It was designated some 20 years ago as an important area, yet it is still in place now and the discussions are ongoing. For 20 years, the area had been de facto protected.
The other issue with marine protected areas is this. What are the terms and conditions of setting aside one of these areas? Let us just say the benthic invertebrates, like the glass sponge reefs off Haida Gwaii, are going to be protected. I think that is a worthy goal, given that some types of fishing activities can affect the benthic environment. Would ships passing over top of this area have any effect on the primary reason for the MPA?
For the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of Transport and regional economic development ministers, it is going to be critical for them to look at the terms and conditions of an MPA. Most people think it is an area that is set aside where there is no activity at all. The point is that, if an MPA has an important benthic environment, for example, that happens to be on a shipping lane, bottom crawling can be restricted to protect the benthic environment while shipping is still allowed. Again, it is a balancing act that I think needs to be done.
This is not a partisan issue at all, but the terms and conditions are very important. Again, in terms of marine protected areas, as was mentioned by the shadow minister for fisheries, many of the fish species are migratory, and they go in and out of these marine protected areas. When one looks at the two great fishery tragedies off the east coast in the last little while—the Atlantic cod and the Atlantic salmon—right now, it is hard to see what a marine protected area would have done for these highly mobile species.
There are places where aquatic protected areas actually make sense, but they have to be very well delineated and with the proper terms and conditions. I will use an example that I am familiar with from back home, and that is lake trout spawning reefs. Lake trout spawn in the fall, and they are very vulnerable to overfishing at that time, because they concentrate on specific reefs. It makes a lot of sense—and the Manitoba government has done this in many areas—to put these lake trout spawning reefs off-limits to fishing, even catch-and-release fishing, during the sensitive time when the lake trout are using these reefs.
Again, the devil is in the details, and it is far too easy to call an area “protected” when that protection does not really do a lot.
I sat on the fisheries committee when Bill C-55 was being discussed. A lot of the reaction from communities was quite negative. A lot dealt with consultation, and a lot dealt with the effect on the local economy. Leonard LeBlanc, managing director of Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board said:
The process DFO used to approach harvester associations and consult on the areas of interest for designation was unorganized and totally not transparent....
...this consultation process on the area of interest for MPA designation in the Cape Breton Trough perpetuated the lack of trust between industry and DFO. The lack of inclusion and answers during the consultation phase, the lack of real scientific evidence for reasoning behind the area of interest, and the lack of guarantees that traditional fisheries could continue all led to further distrust of DFO's consultation....
Mr. Ian MacPherson, executive director of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association, said:
...we...have concerns surrounding the tight timelines to accomplish these goals.... The displacement of fishers from one community to another as a result of an MPA would shift the economics of the island.
Christina Burridge, executive director of the BC Seafood Alliance, said:
On the west coast, we're not seeing a lot of evidence-based decision-making. It's beginning to look like political decision-making.
Closing large areas to fishing off the west coast does little for biodiversity, little for conservation, little for the men and women up and down the coast who work in our sector and who...deserve access to local, sustainable...food.
My colleague, the shadow minister for fisheries, quoted Mr. Sean Cox, a professor of fisheries from Simon Fraser University, who said:
Looking at some of the previous testimony, there was a claim that there was overwhelming scientific proof that MPAs are beneficial and widely successful. I think that was misrepresentation of the actual science.
Therefore, the Liberals' rationale for the MPAs, which is that they have done enough consultation and there is a scientific basis to them, is clearly shown to be bogus.
As I said in one of my questions earlier, I have a very strange environmental philosophy, which is this. Every environmental policy and environmental decision that government makes and every single dollar that is spent on the environment or fisheries by a government should generate a clear and measurable environmental result. So far, the track record of the current government is poor.
I also want to talk about some of my time on the fisheries committee dealing with the Atlantic salmon. As I mentioned earlier, I have the report here. The fisheries committee is different from a lot of other committees in that we operate on a very collegial basis and try very hard to have unanimous reports, which I think is still the case. We on the fisheries committee are treated to some excellent science witnesses, and there is robust debate about the data and evidence that is presented, yet it is always respectful. We produced a report in January 2017 entitled “Wild Atlantic Salmon in Eastern Canada”. Under the current government's watch, the populations of Atlantic salmon have plummeted for a whole bunch of reasons: the very high seal populations; the very high predation rates; the predation rates by striped bass on Atlantic salmon smolts; the overfishing by Greenland of our multi-sea-winter fish; and the issue of the smallmouth bass in Miramichi Lake, to look at one specific water body there.
We produced a report with 17 recommendations. They were very specific recommendations. In one, in particular, we recommended a target the government should have of restoring the Atlantic salmon populations to 1975 levels, with measurable results reported on a regular basis. We talked about engaging with Greenland. We talked about increasing the seal harvest to help the salmon out. There were other recommendations as well. These have all been ignored.
The letter the minister sent in response to this report was a disgrace. The words “restore” and “rehabilitate” did not occur in that letter at all. It was a fluff piece that talked about consultation and so on, in spite of the fact that our Atlantic salmon report had very specific, broadly based and widely supported recommendations. As I said in some of my earlier comments, the current government prefers show over substance.
On the west coast, things are not much better. I have an article here from the CBC, dated December 2018, just a few months ago. It states that more than a dozen B.C. chinook salmon populations are in decline and only one population in the southern group is doing well. The article reports that there is one population that is down to 200 fish. All of this is on the current government's watch. It is doing nothing to deal with some of the crises occurring with our fish stocks right now.
I will go back to my point about generating real and measurable environmental results. When we were in government, we had the recreational fisheries conservation partnership program. Over the life of the program, while we were in government, some 800 projects were funded. Indeed, in one year, for example, the first year, 380 partners undertook 94 habitat restoration projects; 1,700 volunteers donated their time; 2.4 million square metres of habitat were restored; and 200 linear kilometres of recreational fisheries habit were enhanced. These were real and measurable environmental results.
In fact, it was unanimous at the fisheries committee that the Liberal government continue funding the recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program, which delivered real and measurable environmental results. Guess what. It killed the program and the hopes and dreams of many small communities that depend on fisheries.
One of the projects that I am very proud of, which was funded by the recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program, was in a nearby constituency to mine, the constituency of the member for Brandon—Souris, Pelican Lake. Why am I mentioning this? The reason is that this was a project funded by the recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program. In this particular lake, people used to winter kill. This community is partly based on tourism. Sport fishing is very important. With a very small grant from the recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program, aerators were installed on Pelican Lake, and now the fish population has been conserved in that particular lake. People do not winter kill anymore and the economy is booming because of it. Again, it is a real and measurable fisheries result from a program, something that the government simply does not do. It does not deliver results, and it does not measure results.
In terms of the effect on local communities, the government talks a good line on conserving marine mammals, but recently it implemented new whale-watching regulations. I happened to be in Churchill last summer. If any members have had the pleasure of going to Churchill, and I know some of them have, it is an unbelievable experience. I was there in July, and at that particular time of year, thousands of beluga whales crowd into the estuary. The new whale-watching regulations have minimum distances and the animals cannot be approached. It is clearly ridiculous for Churchill, because the minute people launch their boats from the shore, the whales come up to them and they are now technically doing something illegal.
DFO's concern should be the sustainability of populations. The population estimate of beluga whales on the west coast of Hudson Bay is around 55,000, and it is slowly increasing. That trend continues. This is a population of beluga whales that is thriving, yet for no conservation reason at all, DFO is imposing these whale-watching regulations on a tourism-dependent community, on an activity that generates millions of dollars per year. Again, the government's unthinking approach to fisheries and environmental policy is hurting communities.
In his comments earlier, the minister spoke about the Fisheries Act. I was on the fisheries committee when the Fisheries Act was changed in 2012. The Fisheries Act was written in 1898 and was in desperate need of modernization. The definition of what was designated as fish habitat kept expanding, so that puddles in farmers' fields, drainage ditches and so on were now considered fish habitat.
In 2009, for example, the Auditor General did an audit of the original Fisheries Act, after the act had been in place since 1898. The Auditor General found this:
Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada cannot demonstrate that fish habitat is being adequately protected as the Fisheries Act requires. In the 23 years since the Habitat Policy was adopted [in 1986], many parts of the Policy have been implemented only partially by Fisheries and Oceans Canada or not at all. The Department does not measure habitat loss or gain. It has limited information on the state of fish habitat across Canada—that is, on fish stocks, the amount and quality of fish habitat, contaminants in fish, and overall water quality. Fisheries and Oceans Canada still cannot determine the extent to which it is progressing toward the Policy’s long-term objective of a net gain in fish habitat.
The Fisheries Act was so broad that it was ineffective, so our changes made a lot of sense.
For example, in the Prairies, there was an issue in the early 2000s when DFO went hog-wild trying to enforce this unwieldy and unnecessary act. It sent around what we called the “fish cops”, which really riled up rural communities and delivered no significant environmental results.
I was very impressed by the testimony of a Mr. Ron Bonnett, who was president at the time of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. He said:
The experience that many farmers had with the Fisheries Act, unfortunately, was not a positive one. It was characterized by lengthy bureaucratic applications for permitting and authorizations, and a focus on enforcement and compliance measures taken by officials.... Many farmers were then relieved when the changes that were made just a few years ago [by the Conservative government] drastically improved the timeliness and cost of conducting regular maintenance and improvement activities to their farms as well as lifting the threat of being deemed out of compliance.
Mr. Bonnett went on to point out:
There are also many accounts of inconsistency in enforcement, monitoring, and compliance across Canada with different empowered organizations, which led to a confusion and indiscriminate approaches to enforcement and implementation. Even at the individual level, there were different interpretations of the act based on one's familiarity with agriculture.
It is CFA's position that a complete revert to reinstate all provisions of the Fisheries Act as they were would be unproductive, would re-establish the same problems for farmers, and would provide little improvement in outcome for the protection and improvement of fish habitat. Human-made water bodies such as drainage ditches simply should not be treated as fish habitat.
He also noted, “The current streamlined approach is working far better for all and efforts should continue this approach.”
Then he made this incredible statement, which backs up what I was saying earlier:
Overall, any changes to the current Fisheries Act  should be considered as to how they will support outcomes-based conservation rather than a process-oriented approach.
I note that on his own farm, Mr. Bonnett is legendary for his conservation work in keeping cattle out of streams and working very well with the conservation community to enhance and protect all kinds of habitats.
In terms of the Senate amendments, I do support them. It is very important that we get this right. The Senate amendments are very clear that what an MPA is needs to be clearly specified and flexibility allowed. If an area is just closed off to everybody without any thought as to what the goals and objectives are, it would hurt coastal and rural communities.
Obviously, this legislation will pass, as the government has a majority. As I said early in my speech, it is very important that the needs of local communities be taken into account. For example, off the coast of Newfoundland there is a significant food fishery for cod. It is a very important activity there, one that I would like to participate in one of these years. What if the issue in that area is the protection of the benthic environment? Obviously, a food fishery for cod should not affect the benthic environment. Therefore, commercial fishing technologies that have the potential to harm the benthic environment could be dealt with, while at the same time ensuring local community benefits.
Also, I will go back to the notion of stewardship, which my friend from Cypress Hills—Grasslands talked about. I have the honour of representing a large rural community with agriculture, trapping, hunting, fishing, forestry and some oil and gas development. The environment in my particular constituency is one of extremely high quality, and that is because of the conservation efforts by people who are on the ground, who have years and years of experience and know what they are talking about. They will deliver environmental conservation on time and under budget in a way that benefits the environment for all of us.