Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be here today to speak to Bill C-55, an act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, and the amendments sent to us by the other place.
Our government is in fact committed to increasing the proportion of marine and coastal areas that are protected to 10% by the year 2020. Over the past four years, we have worked with a great deal of people to increase our protected areas from just 1% under the former Conservative government to over 8% under the Liberal government.
Indeed, it is under the government and the Prime Minister that this great nation is showing leadership on the issue of marine protection. We are well on our way to achieving our target with sound science and transparent decision-making, once again, working with those within these communities.
We are actively engaging with our partners in both provinces and territories and with indigenous groups, marine industries and all Canadians to increase protections and meet our targets while supporting a health oceans economy. An important part of meeting those targets is Bill C-55.
As many members already know, the bill seeks to provide a new authority for the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to designate an area for interim protection. A decision to either permanently designate the interim area or to repeal the interim order must be made within five years. This mechanism allows for interim protection to areas that are currently under consideration for permanent designation, as the current process takes an average of between seven and 10 years and, currently, in the lead-up to a final designation, there is no mechanism to allow us to protect this area.
While we support the reasons behind the amendments made by the other place, we cannot support the message received as the amendment would add changes that are already required under the existing legislation and would make the interim process longer and more complex than the process for permanent designation.
That is why we have proposed an alternate amendment that captures the intent of the Senate's concerns, while also ensuring that the objective of Bill C-55, which is to provide faster protection, is in fact upheld.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Senate for its work, especially the sponsor, Senator Bovey. While she represents the beautiful province of Manitoba, I know she spent some years on the west coast and has continued to be a strong advocate for the protection and conservation of all of our oceans.
I also want to thank the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard for his leadership on this file. I know he was in Montreal just last month to announce new standards for marine protected areas that would prohibit oil and gas exploration. This announcement was indeed supported not just by Canadians across Canada but around the world.
Canada is taking real action when it comes to protecting our marine environment, but more must and will be done by those not only within government, but our partners throughout our great nation.
That is why we are here today, debating the merits of Bill C-55, a bill that has been received and has been given countless hours of robust debate. Five amendments to the bill, proposed by Conservative, Green and independent members, were adopted by the House on April 25, 2018. The bill has received support in one form or another by all parties in this chamber.
An important principle that acts as the basis of the bill that I would like to speak to and about is the precautionary principle.
Bill C-55 would require the ministries of Fisheries and Oceans, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Governor in Council to apply the precautionary principle when deciding whether to designate new marine protected areas. This would facilitate the decisions to designate a marine protected area. The principle recognizes that the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing decisions where there is a risk of serious or irreversible harm.
Indeed, if information such as the recent report by the United Nations on the collapse of biodiversity has told us anything, it is that we cannot wait to take action to protect our environment. While many of the members opposite want to sit in their seats and wait for more species to go extinct and for weather conditions to worsen because they have no plan for the environment or our marine areas, Canadians can be absolutely certain that the members sitting on this side are listening and responding accordingly.
We are listening and we are taking action because we know we cannot simply wait for our fish stocks to collapse before that is enough evidence to do something about it. We know there are options now, right at this moment, options that we can move forward with and therefore do the right thing to support a healthy marine environment and the communities that depend on those environments.
A good example of this, which has already been raised a few times but cannot be repeated enough, is the good work this government is doing with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the Government of Nunavut to explore the designation of a high Arctic basin for marine protection.
Last month, we announced the memorandum of understanding that outlines the commitment to co-operation that all three parties have signed onto in moving forward with this protection. Furthermore, budget 2019 outlines funds that will be available to support the development of a conservation economy in the High Arctic Basin, with support for critical marine infrastructure.
We know that Bill C-55 will facilitate this process by providing a mechanism that can be used to apply interim protection to the area until a final designation is in fact made. This is not only a good example of how government is taking action now, but is doing so the right way by engaging with the territorial government and respecting the Nunavut land claim agreement and working with rights holders, the QIA.
The members opposite want to say that this government is trying to take shortcuts with the bill, but I put the question for Canadians: Is a process that still takes an average of seven years, with the passage of this bill, to designate a permanent MPA taking a shortcut? Is debating the bill for almost two years in both chambers taking a shortcut? Is listening to the message received by the Senate and proposing an amendment that seeks to capture the intent of this change, while still respecting the objective of the bill, taking a shortcut?
I think that Canadians believe that the answer is no, no and no. I do not expect members opposite to agree with the government on this issue or with Canadians, because we know that those members have no plan for the environment. However, I want all Canadians to know that this Liberal government has taken leadership on this issue, and overall on the issue of the environment, and we will do whatever we can to get this bill passed and our marine areas protected.
As Canadians, we are all connected to our oceans, which are significant to our heritage, culture and economy, and are essential to all life on this great planet. In 2015, our government promised that 5% of Canada's marine and coastal areas would be protected by 2017, and we delivered. Over 8% of our oceans are now protected, which is up from less than 1% when we took office in 2015. Now our government is committed to reaching our international target of 10% by 2020, as I mentioned earlier. We will do this with sound science and transparent decision-making, working with our provinces and territories and communities that have a direct interest in the decision-making process.
One of the forms of protection is a marine protected area, MPA, under the Oceans Act, where unique species and their habitats are conserved and protected. We have examined how the Oceans Act could be updated to facilitate the designation process for MPAs without sacrificing science or the public's ability to provide their input, their thoughts and, most importantly, their interests in a process that considers the consequences of the decisions being made. The current process for a designated marine protected area is lengthy. These proposed amendments to the Oceans Act would shorten the time required to put protection in place, while ensuring that shortcuts are not taken when it comes to these consultations.
This legislation would, among other things, ensure that marine protection can in fact be done and completed in a timely manner by allowing the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to designate provisional protections to an interim MPA while the steps for a permanent MPA are in fact followed. The interim MPA would freeze the footprint of current activities in sensitive areas that are being considered for Oceans Act MPA designation. It would also allow for ongoing activities, those that have taken place in the last year, to continue.
We will continue engaging with our partners in the provinces and territories and with indigenous groups, marine industries and all Canadians. I cannot emphasize enough how inclusive this process is and will continue to be, to ensure the protection and meet the targets we proposed back in 2015, which we are now continuing to work toward.
Our government made a commitment to increase the proportion of Canada's marine and coastal areas to 10% by 2020, and we are going to meet that commitment, which we started in 2015. This proposed legislation is part of our plan to reach these targets. The proposed amendments would shorten the time required to put protection in place and allow interim protection for sensitive marine areas. Currently, there is no protection until there is full protection.
The Senate amendment is duplicative and requires an additional consultation period beyond what is already required in legislation. If accepted, the Senate amendment would make the order process for interim protection more complex and lengthy than the process for designating an amendment or permanent MPA. This would go against the objective of this bill, which is underpinned by the precautionary approach and seeks to create a mechanism that will allow for faster interim protection to marine and coastal areas.
However, we understand the concerns. We understand the concerns made by some members of the Senate, and that is why we have proposed an amendment that captures the intent of the message received by the Senate. Our proposal will ensure that the geographical location and all other relevant information, as well as information on all consultations undertaken, are published when an order for interim protection is made.
I come from a Great Lakes region, Niagara, and of course, with that we have just recently announced plans to look at protection of the Great Lakes, and there are reasons for that. I look at it under a triple-bottom-line lens. That triple bottom line lens consists of, in order of priority, economy, environment and social issues—the effects and consequences of decisions made on our waterways, whether they be the Great Lakes or our oceans.
Some of the things I have learned throughout the past years in my former life as a mayor and now as an MP are the critical responsibilities that we have, how critical it is to work with our communities, how critical it is to work with our businesses and our residents in those areas, ensuring that economic, social and environmental considerations are taken before those decisions are made, and how important it is that their interests are placed at the forefront of those decisions.
This bill, Bill C-55, is no different with respect to the oceans and, of course, the areas that we have to preserve to ensure that future generations—not just five, 10 or 15 years down the road but 20, 30, 40 or 50 years down the road—are looked after when it comes to our environment and what is attached to our environment.
In closing, I would like to say this. Although we here in Parliament sit in four-year terms, it is important that the vision goes beyond those four years and looks at 20- to 50-year thoughts, priorities, responsibilities and, therefore, strategies. Bill C-55 does that. I look forward to Bill C-55 passing in this House. Therefore, the thoughts and, of course, responsibilities that we have for future generations will be taken as forthright, in front of mind, and the strategies attached to same will include the involvement and priorities of the people whom we are going to actually affect by this legislation, the communities and those along our waterfronts.