It has been a positive week for our oceans. Monday, Bill S-203 was passed, which would end cetaceans in captivity. There was also an announcement to ban single-use plastics, although we are waiting for the details. It has been a progressive week.
Now we have Bill C-68, an opportunity to fix the gutting of the Fisheries Act under the Conservatives. I am glad this place has an opportunity to do even more work to ensure that aquatic environments are safeguarded, which should be our priority as parliamentarians.
The bill would restore protections for all fish across Canada, protections that were previously removed by the Conservatives six years ago. This could have been changed sooner. We wish it had been done sooner, but we are glad it is being done now and we welcome changes to this bill.
Fish stocks are in decline in many parts of the country, as we know, especially on the west coast. It is due, in large part, to the negative impacts of human activity on fish habitat and the health of water bodies overall. Bill C-68 would put back into place legal protections needed to conserve fish habitat and the aquatic environment in a manner consistent with the minister's mandate to restore lost protections and introduce modern safeguards to the Fisheries Act.
With respect to the specifics, Bill C-68 would first and foremost compel the minister to consider any effects that decisions under the Fisheries Act might have on the rights of indigenous peoples of Canada and authorize agreements to be made with indigenous governing bodies. It is so important that the work we do embeds these protections and the rights of indigenous communities.
Pacific salmon are a primary food source for culture and the economy of indigenous peoples and people in coastal communities. The government has taken steps to help incorporate the rights and traditions of indigenous peoples to support their economic and cultural sustainability. I am very proud of the determined and continued stewardship of the indigenous communities in our country, especially on the west coast and in my riding. We really need their input and local knowledge to do this work; it is absolutely essential.
I want to share with the House a couple of comments.
Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president, Dr. Judith Sayers, said that while Bill C-68 may not be everything Nuu-chah-nulth would like to see, it was a fulfillment of the Liberal promise to undo the damage the previous government did to the act. She said that habitat restoration was critical for their fisheries to remain sustainable so they may continue to exercise our rights and that the inclusion of indigenous wisdom was a start to recognizing their laws and knowledge systems. She did highlight, though, the need for co-management and the need to work toward that.
Eric Angel, the fisheries program manager for Uu-a-thluk, which is a Nuu-Chah-Nulth fisheries program, said:
The changes to the Fisheries Act under Bill C-68 are the most important amendments to federal fisheries legislation in a hundred years. Nuu-chah-nulth are very concerned that these proposed changes become law. The restoration of habitat protection that was stripped out of the Fisheries Act under the Harper government is absolutely critical. We are facing a crisis on the west coast with the destruction of salmon habitat and we desperately need this legislation to be able to force government to do a better job of looking after fish habitat. The proposed act also contains some small but important steps towards recognizing the laws and traditional knowledge systems of First Nations.
It is important to move forward with this. We know water is sacred. We, as parliamentarians, are coming to better understand that. We have a commitment to improve the ecology, especially the habitats that surround indigenous communities in coastal communities, as well as their important rights, ensuring their local knowledge and leadership in their traditional territories are respected. They have taken the lead on water issues. In my riding and many indigenous communities, the bill would directly and positively affect them.
Bill C-68 would also modernize measures to protect fish and fish habitat in ecologically significant areas and establish standards and codes of practice, a public registry and create fish habitat banks initially by different projects. This bill would also allow the minister to establish advisory panels and to set fees, including for the provision of regulatory processes, and allow the minister to make regulations for the conservation and protection of marine biodiversity.
We are happy to see clauses that build greater oversight over what companies do to fish habitats. It would allow the minister to stop companies from putting down anti-salmon breeding mats and protect the stock of coastal salmon.
The New Democrats are pleased to see that after so many years of trying, the bill would prohibit the import and exportation of shark fins. We have been working incredibly hard to ensure this practice is a thing of the past.
I want to thank my colleague and friend, the hon. member for Port Moody—Coquitlam, for his tireless efforts to make this happen, both in Bill C-68 and through Bill S-238. I also want to thank the members of the fisheries and oceans committee, who have taken the time to look at the issue closely.
The fact remains that shark populations, both in Canada and abroad, are at significant risk. My office has heard from many ordinary citizens, as well as conservation experts, who feel strongly about the effort to protect shark populations from needless slaughter. We have spent enough time over several parliaments looking at the issue and this is a critical juncture for us to act.
Along the same vein, this bill would further enshrine the ban on the capture and captivity of cetaceans, which I mentioned earlier. I am so grateful to the House for its support of Bill S-203 on Monday. It shows that the House is an active participant in changing the dialogue on marine conservation, and also on animal rights. I am pleased this bill gives us an opportunity to reaffirm that participation.
Bill C-68 would strengthen the enforcement powers and establish an alternative measures agreements regime, which includes $284 million over five years to enforce the protection of habitat wherever fish are present. This bill would allow the minister to stop or limit fishing for a period of 45 days to address the threat to the proper management and control of fisheries so the conservation and protection of fish is maintained.
Bill C-68 goes beyond just restoring the protection and habitat that were removed in the changes to the Fisheries Act in 2012. It goes as far as to include all fish in the definition of “fisheries”, and would include the rebuilding of depleted fish stocks in the Fisheries Act.
All that said, the latest suite of amendments proposed by the Senate presents some setback to the work that the House has been doing. The biggest thing that comes to mind are the changes that touch heavily on third-party habitat banking.
The creation of habitat banks has been poorly executed in the past, where first nations, municipalities and conservation organizations saw damage accumulated in their territory or watershed and the habitat bank in a neighbouring first nations territory or watershed. Therefore, it was disappointing to see these amendments, calling for the proposal of third-party banking. There was no consultation with indigenous groups, which mostly oppose it.
While I am happy to see the Liberal government is listening to some of these concerns and has proposed to remove these amendments, I am disappointed in the Liberal government for not taking the opportunity to really make a difference in protecting water flows, both upstream and downstream.
Back in the spring of 2018, when Bill C-68 was before the fisheries and oceans committee, the hon. member for Port Moody—Coquitlam proposed several amendments to strengthen the bill. These amendments included proposals that explicitly recognized that the quantity, timing and quality of water flows were vital to ensuring the free passage and the protection of fish and fish habitat. These important amendments were passed by a majority vote during the clause-by-clause review.
The Senate has not taken the issue of water flows seriously. It proposed that the addition of upstream protection was unimportant and that companies that obstructed the flow of water should do the bare minimum required to conserve populations. This was something the industry wanted. We worked with conservation groups to find a solution to water-flow issues, but the Senate only listened to the lobbyists, who cannot be bothered to be proactive partners in conservation.
What is more, the Liberals are on board with this amendment, despite the expert advice of the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, which pointed to the absence of legal protections for environmental flows, resulting in a situation where fisheries resources, fish habitat and the supporting freshwater ecosystems may not be consistently protected across Canada.
I am sure I could speak for a lot longer on this, but this is a great step. I have to commend the government for working together with us to repair so much of the damage left by the previous government. However, if we are to walk the path to restoration, it will take many more steps.