Mr. Speaker, I can see that this issue has generated a lot of interest. Nobody seems to want to leave the room. They all want to hear my speech. I will try to give them their money's worth.
It might be a good idea to review the issue at hand. We are talking about a treaty, a nice little document that, in 2007, made it possible for the Fisheries and Oceans people and people from a dozen other countries to negotiate a comprehensive Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) agreement. Decisions needed to be made about how to proceed should problems arise and how to exploit the fisheries resource throughout such a vast territory. A lot of people, a lot of fishers have earned a good living off the area's plentiful resources, but those resources, cod in particular, disappeared quickly.
NAFO was in place, and the cod fishery enabled fishers and whole communities, particularly in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, to prosper. I represent Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands, but members from other ridings know exactly what I am talking about.
However, foreign vessels—and I am sorry, but I have to name names—from Spain, Portugal and Russia, freely fished outside of our so-called protected zone, the 200-mile zone, and even inside that zone. NAFO tried to protect our resources, particularly cod, to prevent the resources from being ravaged and the seas from being pillaged. I will not go so far as to call it a massacre.
History finally repeated itself, in a way. For some 300 to 400 years, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, Gaspé, the Magdalen Islands and other coastal areas made a good living fishing cod. That was a long time. But then all it took was 30 or 40 years of carelessness, and the resource nearly disappeared.
One of the harshest criticisms levelled against NAFO has been the virtual disappearance of cod in these fishing zones. People realized that the organization's performance was lacking, as the cod issue clearly shows.
A number of people started to wonder if it would be better to leave NAFO entirely and to have some kind of free-for-all. Canada could protect resources over this large area with the Canadian navy, or with the help of countries that share our vision. I said “large” area, but that hardly describes it. It is a huge area.
If the countries that are interested in this fishing zone do not work together or hold each other accountable, we will quickly lose control. It could even turn into a third world war over the marine resources in this fishing zone. If the countries do not work together to control things, there will be almost no other way to verify it all and to protect these resources. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador will likely be interested in what I am going to say. We must protect this area and offer a better future to the coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.
NAFO was unfortunately a failure when it came to the cod fishery. Could we say that it was a big enough failure to justify getting rid of NAFO? Not necessarily, for the reasons I just mentioned, mainly that there is no other way.
Even if NAFO has proven to be very ineffective for managing cod resources, we are better off with an ineffective organization than with no organization at all, which would mean that any resources left in that fishing zone could be cleaned out, could disappear virtually overnight. We know very well that ships do not operate the way they did in the past. It is no longer the same situation. Logically, we need an organization that does its job and that has the tools to do so.
In recent years, 2007 in particular, some amendments to the Convention on Future Multilateral Cooperation in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries have been negotiated. The members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans have gone through this entire file and we finally realized that there had been negotiations with 12 or 13 member countries of the organization in question. Nonetheless, testimony from witnesses indicated that these negotiations resulted in third-rate agreements. What I mean by third-rate can be explained in a number of ways. I have a hard time accepting the fact that such poor agreements were negotiated in a matter as important as this one. I can see why there are days when it is tempting to be rid of NAFO. However, as I was saying, we need to have an organization, even if it is relatively weak. We need it to ensure that there is at least some management of the fisheries in this vast area.
Nonetheless, there is a big difference between that and showing up for negotiations, letting things slide and encroaching on the terrain of your neighbours, the Europeans, who, in recent years have not been very sympathetic when it comes to our affairs. I am referring to the seal hunt. We see that they did not listen very closely or productively. The European Union decided to boycott seal products. This was decided in the month of June, on the pretext that the hunt was a massacre. The seal hunt is far from being a massacre, the proof being that the seal population is on the rise. If it were a massacre, if the species were in danger, the numbers would prove it. I am certain that biologists and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans cannot be that wrong. What is more, they personally had the opportunity to be present at a seal hunt. It is as plain as day. The species is not in danger. The birth rate is on the rise and we will see that in the 2009 figures.
Regarding recent decisions, Europe taught us to be extremely vigilant. Was the negotiating team not vigilant? I would not go that far. I have no doubt these people wanted to act responsibly. However, that depends on the mandate they are given. The negotiating team's mandate was to negotiate, at nearly any cost, maintaining NAFO, however weak it may be. That is what I realized about the testimony we heard. That is what I realized when I read the documents. Upon careful examination of the documents, one might wonder if NAFO was strengthened in terms of what should be done when a country behaves improperly.
No, NAFO was in no way strengthened in relation to such situations. We are talking about a scientific council and procedures, but ultimately, while we are talking about procedures, when the damage is done, it is done. The resource disappears.
I am not necessarily a fan of Danny Williams, the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. I am not one of his greatest admirers, but I must say, despite all his grandstanding, he is definitely a straight shooter. He was a straight shooter when it came to NAFO. He wrote to us, as well as to the premiers of all the provinces involved, and said right out that something suspicious was going on, that what was happening was not right and that we definitely needed to maintain our sovereignty. As a Quebec sovereignist, hon. members will understand my attachment to that word as well as my interest in sovereignty.
I believe strongly in maritime or Atlantic sovereignty. Not only do I believe in it, but I think it must be defended. It must also be promoted. Indeed, upon reading the documents, one might wonder if we are doing enough to defend it.
Furthermore, I am not just taking Danny Williams' word for it because, I will repeat, I am not really one of his admirers. Nevertheless, I think he did some good things. He is capable of good things as well as not-so-good things. In this case, I think he sounded the alarm. He also sounded the alarm because he was convinced by people with a great deal of experience in fisheries and negotiations, people who worked with the department at some point. I am thinking of Mr. Applebaum and others who testified before the committee. I think they were very convincing because they told us that, unfortunately, the results of the 2007 negotiations were far from satisfactory.
As for the gentlemen in question—I call them that because they deserve to be called that—they came to testify in order to give us all the facts in this matter and not because they take pleasure in criticizing people. I think they testified because they have a special interest in the matter.
When you have been a senior official in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, you do not take pleasure in appearing before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and stating that the agreement negotiated is not a good one and that it does not make much sense to accept them for such and such reasons.
I take my hat, my sealskin hat, off to them and thank them. Thank you for opening Danny Williams' eyes and thank you for opening the committee members' eyes. My hope is that my speech and those of others will bring the Conservatives to their senses and make them understand that it is very dangerous to let things get to the point where, as a result of negotiations, any amendments will require a two-thirds majority rather than 50% plus one. If it is already difficult to get 50% plus one of our partner's support, imagine what it will take to get two-thirds. That is also part of the problem. It is a magic number, one that may be difficult to obtain.
We may think that the Europeans will understand our intentions and that the resource will be well protected, but between you, me and the bedpost, I do not trust them that much. I can negotiate respectfully and I can discuss, argue and debate, but I am not prepared to trust them. We have already paid once, in the case of cod. We should not have to pay again for all the remaining resources, such as crab and especially shrimp.
That is why it is important that we agree to and adopt a motion that does not necessarily set everything aside, but that says that the results of the negotiation, with the proposed amendments, are not satisfactory. We could eventually put this issue in the hands of another negotiating team. The negotiations took place in 2007, and it is almost 2010. Another departmental negotiating team will certainly be taking part in the negotiations, with the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs and other departments. There is nothing to keep us from putting a stop to this.
I believe that we have to learn from history and stop getting into situations where we close our eyes and, under a document written and signed by us, signed by the Government of Canada, we let things get to the point where the other marine resources are endangered. We have to think about our sovereignty, but we also have to think about the resource. The economy of our coastal communities is at stake. All the coastal communities are taking an interest in this issue. I understand that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are making a big deal about it, but with good reason. They are more than a little affected.
Should the other provinces be as concerned? Yes, in my opinion. On the other hand, are we not here also to defend the interests of each of our provinces? Members from New Brunswick even chair our meetings and proudly represent the people of New Brunswick. There are other members from New Brunswick on the committee as well. There are members from Nova Scotia, and even from Alberta, if you can believe it. It makes for a nice little group.
I believe that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is a department that operates from sea to sea, from coast to coast. That is why the results of the negotiations that we have in front of us are far from satisfactory. When I see that they are unsatisfactory and I am not convinced that conditions could improve in the future, I must speak up and vote accordingly, demanding that we halt proceedings and let those involved know that this makes no sense and that we need to stop it.
The documents in question, which we have received, talk about the presence of the 2007 team. The leader of this team, the former minister and member from Newfoundland and Labrador, Loyola Hearn, even appeared before us. He was rather convincing when he appeared before us, enthusiastically pushing us to sign and support the document.
At the same time, I understand that a minister who led the negotiations will not come and tell us that he failed or did not succeed, especially since he had promised. He had promised to improve the system. He realized, like me, that the system was limited and had many weaknesses.
Did we expect the former minister to candidly tell us that he had failed, that the negotiations were not successful and that he encouraged us to reconsider what was signed? No, I was expecting those kinds of comments, and that is what we heard.
The other committee members may have heard the same thing.
This concludes my speech; I invite all the committee members and all members of Parliament to pay close attention to the future of the fisheries in the northwest Atlantic.