Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure to rise in debate on this motion today.
It is very clear that Canada is blessed to be home to an abundant array of natural resources. Without question, our government is committed to protecting Canada's diverse marine ecosystems and to the conservation of the species contained in those ecosystems.
I want to talk about that further, because one level of government cannot do that alone. We have to collaborate with other levels of government, with all three levels of government in this great country, quite frankly. There is no good in the opposition getting up to make wild accusations that somehow one project that has been very closely monitored is going to destroy an entire species or an entire ecosystem.
I would just like to bring up the fact that some 3,000 ships pass through this ecosystem every year. I would suspect that if the NDP were to get its way, it would want to shut down all that shipping, every last ship that goes through the belugas' ecosystem, which is a large and substantial ecosystem.
Let us talk about reasonable and responsible development and how we go about that.
We are honoured, as the government, to have the responsibility to be stewards of these resources, to protect them, to enjoy them, and to benefit from them. The Species at Risk Act, SARA, is a key component, given the many variables to consider in effectively protecting aquatic species in our waters and in helping them to recover.
The Species at Risk Act is one of the federal government's key conservation tools. Given the variety and the geographic distribution of protected species, the Species at Risk Act has the potential to involve many Canadians, from commercial fishers and the aquaculture industry to recreational fishers and individuals.
The act supports biodiversity and the long-term sustainability of Canada's aquatic species and fisheries: commercial, aboriginal, and recreational. We know that healthy fish stocks and aquatic systems are the key to stable and prosperous fisheries.
The purpose of the act is to prevent threatened wildlife from becoming extinct and to provide for their recovery. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, along with Environment Canada and Parks Canada, are responsible for the implementation of the Species at Risk Act. The Minister of the Environment has primary responsibility for its administration and is the responsible minister for all species on federal lands as well as migratory birds. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is the minister responsible for aquatic species other than those found in areas administered by Parks Canada.
The Species at Risk Act establishes a process for conducting scientific assessments of the status of individual wildlife and aquatic species.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC, is a non-government committee of scientific experts that identifies and assesses wildlife and aquatic species at risk in Canada. The committee undertakes assessments of wildlife and aquatic species on an annual basis.
On receiving these assessments, the Governor in Council must make a decision as to whether a species will be included on schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. When it is decided to list a species under the Species at Risk Act as extirpated, endangered, or threatened, recovery strategies and action plans are prepared. Recovery strategies identify threats to the species and its habitat. These strategies also identify critical habitat to the extent possible and set population and distribution objectives for the species.
I say that to let all Canadians know that there is a process, and the process is adhered to and followed by every department of the government.
Action plans outline the steps to be taken to meet the objectives in any recovery strategy. For species listed as a special concern, the act requires the preparation of a management plan, including measures to be taken for the species' conservation.
These are just some of the steps DFO takes to protect these species. On top of that, they have a duty to consult with various stakeholders on designated species, to provide advice to the Minister of the Environment on whether the species should be listed for legal protection under SARA, and to work with affected stakeholders to develop recovery strategies and action plans for species protected under SARA.
On top of that, they have a responsibility to conduct additional scientific research on the impact of fisheries and other activities on listed species and their habitat; to update fisheries management plans, where applicable, to include new conservation measures; and to develop a compliance plan. When they develop a compliance plan, they base that on sound scientific research and stakeholder conversations.
The Species at Risk Act emphasizes, as I mentioned earlier in my speech, co-operation and stewardship of the species at risk. No single government or entity can recover species at risk by itself. In particular, co-operation between the federal departments and agencies is required. The Species at Risk Act also emphasizes co-operation with the provincial and territorial partners, aboriginal organizations, landowners, resource users, and Canadians in general.
From our perspective, there can be no success without the work of everyone involved. The scope, scale, and importance of this process demands a collaborate effort. A key component in the government's collaboration and consultation with Canadians is the SARA public registry. The public registry is a key source of news, information, and documents related to species at risk in Canada.
What this does not mean is that we stop all development in this country every single time there is an issue. I have just explained that there is a very thorough process. We allow the process to take place, listen to the scientific advice that is given by all the stakeholders, and then make a decision based on science. That is exactly what the Government of Canada, with the advice of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, does.
We recognize the importance of shared stewardship and taking action at a local level to recover species. Our investments ensure that Canadians can take steps to protect the habitats of species at risk.
With respect to the St. Lawrence beluga whale, this government has been active in support of the recovery of this species. In March 2012, a recovery strategy for the species was finalized. The recovery strategy was developed in close collaboration with our partners, which included marine mammal experts, representatives of the Government of Quebec, Parks Canada, and other interested stakeholders.
We realize that aquatic ecosystems need a wide variety of species to remain robust and productive and to provide economic benefits to Canadians. The greater the variety of species within an ecosystem, the more able it is to withstand threats and pressures. The more simple an ecosystem is, the more vulnerable it will be to degradation, loss of species, and loss of productivity.
Species such the beluga whale are essential components of the aquatic ecosystem and provide significant benefits to coastal communities and to Canadians. Recovery efforts can take time, but significant progress is being made, and species are being recovered. The Pacific humpback whale is a recent example of this. Its status has improved from “threatened” to “special concern”. We are confident that more success is forthcoming in the future.
In closing, I again ask for continued collaboration across all levels of government and with all Canadians. Our government will continue to provide leadership in the conservation and protection of Canada's aquatic systems and in the recovery of aquatic species at risk.
Finally, we have a motion here. The motion was brought in good faith, but we have to listen to what the proponent of the motion is actually saying. What I am hearing is that there should be no development, no interaction, in this area whatsoever. We have very clear guidelines and limitations on what industry and ship traffic can do in the area. Those are sound, reasonable, and responsible regulations that control shipping traffic in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The alternative the member seems to be proposing is simply to stop all traffic and all development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and to simply do nothing.