Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in this House to speak to Bill C-8. At the start of my remarks I would like to pay tribute to the hard work done by the member for Jonquière to protect the environment.
Bill C-8 concerns the creation of a network of national marine conservation areas, the marine equivalent of national parks. This network would be representative of 29 marine regions in Canada, covering the waters of the Great Lakes, inland waters including swamps, the territorial sea and the 200 mile exclusive economic zone.
With this bill, the government will set the boundaries of the marine conservation areas in all the regions in Canada, in consultation with the people of the area. This phrase is very important.
Bill C-8 gives the governor in council, on the recommendation of the Ministers of Fisheries and Oceans and Canadian Heritage, the right to limit or prohibit activities in commercial zones in order to protect marine resources.
It also gives the governor in council, on the recommendation of the Ministers of Transport and Canadian Heritage, the right to limit or prohibit transportation in marine conservation areas.
It is important to note that 1998 was set aside as the year of the oceans by the UN.
The most important activities held to draw attention to this event include the world's fair in Lisbon, Portugal, and the adoption of the ocean charter by UNESCO in September 1997 in St. John's, Newfoundland.
The government claims it is important to preserve the natural marine ecosystems and their balance to maintain biologic diversity. It says there is a need to establish a representative network of marine conservation areas, whose scope and features will ensure the maintenance of healthy marine ecosystems.
The Bloc Quebecois supports environmental protection measures. We have always given our support. It gave its support when the government introduced legislation to establish the Saguenay—St. Lawrence marine park.
In addition, in my riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, the Argenteuil Parti Quebecois and the PQ subcommittee on the environment for the Laurentian region submitted briefs to the BAPE. People wanted to show their support for the protection of the environment, particularly ecosystems in the groundwater, marine conservation areas, forests and other areas.
In 1986, the federal government launched the marine conservation area program. In 1988, the National Parks Act was amended to take into account the establishment of temporary protected marine areas. Since then, the following areas were created: Fathom Five National Marine Park in the Georgian Bay, the Gwaii Haanas marine conservation reserve in British Columbia, and, of course, the Saguenay—St. Lawrence marine park.
The park is over 1,100 square kilometres and has a unique tourist component, the importance of which we are just beginning to grasp. This marine park was 14 years in the making. Its management is shared by the provincial governments and, yes, the federal government.
The project began in 1985. It took quite a long time to create the park because of the public consultations, environmental studies and negotiations that were required. That precedent should have served as a model for the federal government in establishing other marine conservation areas.
It should be pointed out that co-operative mechanisms already exist to protect ecosystems in the Saguenay—St. Lawrence marine park, and in the St. Lawrence River, under the agreement entitled “St. Lawrence action plan, phase III”, which was signed by all federal and provincial departments concerned and which provides for an investment of $250 million over five years in various activities relating to the St. Lawrence River.
Therefore, the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to this bill, first because it is not clear whether Quebec's territorial integrity will be respected. Second, the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to this bill because Heritage Canada is proposing the establishment of a new structure, that is the marine conservation areas, which will simply duplicate Fisheries and Oceans' marine protected areas and Environment Canada's marine wildlife reserves. There are many people doing the same thing.
Quebec's jurisdiction is recognized under the British North America Act of 1867. So, there is overlap within the federal government. With the bill, the government wants to establish marine conservation areas under the responsibility of Heritage Canada, marine protection areas under the responsibility of Fisheries and Oceans and marine wildlife areas under the responsibility of Environment Canada. As I said before, three cooks might spoil the broth.
The same site could have more than one designation. It could be designated as a marine conservation area by Heritage Canada and as a marine protection area by Fisheries and Oceans. In both cases, it is said that the local population will have a major role to play in the establishment of marine protection areas. The Bloc is concerned about problems related to the bureaucracy.
The same area, according to Fisheries and Oceans, could fall under different categories and be subject to different regulations. We know that when more than one department is involved in a project, there are difficulties and additional costs to the taxpayers.
I think the government would have been better to make sure that ecosystems are managed by one department only. The departments involved should sign a framework agreement to delegate all of their responsibilities over ecosystems to the same department while respecting constitutional jurisdictions.
I also want to mention the fact that the preliminary consultations were a failure. Furthermore, during hearings by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, almost all groups from coastal areas heard condemned the bill on the grounds that the system proposed by Heritage Canada would duplicate part of the work done by Fisheries and Oceans and create confusion.
On February 11, 1999, Patrick McGuinness, vice-president of the Fisheries Council of Canada, told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that it was simply inefficient, cumbersome public administration. I remember because I was there. In his view, bringing forward this marine conservation area initiative in its own act under the responsibility of a separate minister and a separate department was unacceptable. His conclusion was that the bill should be withdrawn.
Jean-Claude Grégoire, a member of the board of directors of the Alliance des pêcheurs professionnels du Québec, which represents almost 80% of all professional fishers in Quebec, also told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that there were numerous problems. In his testimony, he mentioned that because such an area is scientifically inaccessible, you tend to work a lot more with unconfirmed data or assumptions of what exists than with actual scientific knowledge of what you are dealing with.
Lastly, I want to point out that the Bloc Quebecois believes that the consultation conducted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Quebec with respect to the introduction of marine conservation areas was also a failure.
Furthermore, the Bloc Quebecois knows that the Government of Quebec is also engaged in initiatives to protect the environment and submerged lands and water in particular. Bill C-8 does not respect Quebec's territorial integrity.
In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of measures to protect the environment, but opposed to Bill C-8 for all the reasons I have mentioned.