Mr. Speaker, federal interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction is starting to be routine in this country, under the present government.
With the blessing—as required by social union—of nine out of ten provinces, Ottawa now has legislated sticking its nose into places where it has no business being: our classrooms, our hospital rooms, our universities and so on.
Up until now, there was one area in which the power-hungry government had not interfered: the bottom of our waterways. No doubt that was an oversight. Now it has been remedied.
The bill before us corrects this surprising oversight.
In its principle and purposes, Bill C-8 meets laudable objectives, that is the conservation of animal and plant life in marine areas. We would have liked to be able to support it but, unfortunately, it seems that this government is incapable of coming up with bills that do not include clauses that I liken to worms in a nice apple, which encroach on provincial jurisdictions. It makes it impossible for any member who wants to uphold the Constitution to vote in favour.
The Bloc Quebecois is opposed to Bill C-8 because it does not explicitly recognize the territorial integrity of Quebec, and also because it will duplicate the marine protected areas of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
At the Canadian heritage committee hearings, almost all coastal groups who appeared before the committee spoke out against this bill, arguing that the Canadian heritage initiative would duplicate what is already being done by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, create confusion, and so on.
Here is what my colleague for Longueuil said:
There is nothing in the bill or in the government's amendments that guarantees that, once the bill is passed, the territorial integrity of Quebec will be respected. In fact, we know that the federal and the Quebec governments do not agree about the ownership of some portions of the ocean floor, especially in the estuary of the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Now, the bill provides that the government can establish marine conservation areas—and I quote the bill as amended—if the government is satisfied “that Her Majesty in right of Canada has clear title to or an unencumbered right of ownership in the lands to be included in the marine conservation area”.
There already was a good example the government knew about. They only had to rely on it to get our support. I am talking, of course, about the bill passed in 1997 to establish the Saguenay—St. Lawrence marine park. That legislation respects the jurisdiction of both levels of government. In co-operating to create that park, the federal government did not demand ownership over the lands that Quebec considers its own under the British North America Act of 1867. But things are different for the areas subject to Bill C-8. Ottawa wants to assume ownership over these lands, regardless of the Quebec legislation on crown lands.
And there is more. As a result of infringing upon areas of provincial jurisdiction, of walking all over the provinces, Ottawa is caught stepping on its own toes. We now have three federal departments who are suddenly and simultaneously interested in protecting the ocean floor. Heritage Canada wants marine conservation areas. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans want to set up marine conservation areas. And, not wanting to feel left out, Environment Canada now wants to create marine wildlife preserves. Under Bill C-8, each department will have jurisdiction over its own areas or zones. This promises to create a lot of grey areas, legal blur and jurisdictional conflicts.
Here is what project co-ordinator John Melindy told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage:
Now, through the Oceans Act, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is empowered to declare marine protected areas to conserve species under threat. In view of this fact, we are mystified as to why Canadian Heritage is attempting to run a parallel conservation initiative under a separate piece of legislation....Our position statement is that overall we feel Bill C-8 should be withdrawn. We cannot see any particular reason for making this bill into law. It is felt that this bill would undermine the authority of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and transfer powers for marine conservation and habitat protection to Parks Canada, which has no management or scientific expertise in the marine field.
Mismanagement, confusion with regard to respective roles, waste of resources, contempt for the Constitution which guarantees provincial jurisdictions, Bill C-8 is a perfect example of all those things.
The only good thing about this bill, as in the case of so many other bills before it, is that it will hopefully help Quebecers understand that this system is corrupt and that sovereignty alone will enable them to get out of that mess.