Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pursue a question that was first put on June 1 to the hon. parliamentary secretary for fisheries and oceans.
I am very glad that we have this procedure of adjournment proceedings, because, as we all know, it is very difficult in the very short time available in question period to put a question together to fully explain the context, so I am going to return to my question, explain it more fully and put it again to the parliamentary secretary.
I started my question by quoting a quite extraordinary letter written by four former ministers of fisheries and oceans: the Honourable Tom Siddon, the Honourable John Fraser, the Honourable Herb Dhaliwal and the Honourable David Anderson. They all happen to be from British Columbia, but they do not happen to be in the same party. There are two Liberals and two Progressive Conservatives.
These four gentlemen are calling on the government to withdraw from the omnibus budget bill those sections that have no place being there, the sections destroying the Fisheries Act.
What they said at one point in the letter was:
With respect to process, we find it troubling that the government is proposing to amend the Fisheries Act via omnibus budget legislation in a manner that we believe will inevitably reduce and weaken the habitat-protection provisions. Regrettably, despite the significance of the legislation, to date the responsible ministers have provided no plausible, let alone convincing, rationale for proceeding with the unusual process that has been adopted.
This is the section that I quoted in my question to the hon. member:
Quite frankly, Canadians are entitled to know whether these changes were written, or insisted upon, by the Minister of Fisheries or by interest groups outside the government. If the latter is true, who are they?
In putting this question forward on June 1, I added, “Where are they, in Canada or in Beijing?”
I know my hon. friend found that, in his words, a strange question, so let me elaborate on why I think that is the question.
We are looking at a lot of changes in Canadian environmental assessment law, changes that would make cabinet superior to the National Energy Board for decision-making purposes. We are looking at changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act, and they are in aid of what is described as a great urgency to approve projects.
I have had some experience with projects of the Government of Canada. The case I will relate involved the previous government of the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien. In a feverish attempt to sell nuclear reactors to China, the government actually loaned China the money to buy our reactors and wanted to evade environmental review. At the time I was with the Sierra Club of Canada, and I actually took them to court. Unfortunately, due to a number of procedural delays imposed on us by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, the matter never got litigated. However, the crux of it is this: when Canada deals with China, in my experience, Canada reduces its environmental reviews.
In this instance we have a tremendous number of changes that make no sense to Canadians. They make no sense to people who have worked in Fisheries and Oceans. They particularly make no sense to these four former fisheries ministers, nor to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which voted in an emergency resolution this week to seek to withdraw those changes.
What is driving it? It seems to me that the Prime Minister gave us a sense of that with two statements. One was on May 10 in the House in response to the hon. leader of the Liberal Party. On reducing environmental assessments, the Prime Minister said, “It is vital to the certainty of our investors”. At the same time, we know that the Prime Minister already promised the leadership in Beijing when he was visiting China that the Enbridge supertanker project would proceed.
Therefore, it seems to me that it is a very relevant question. Who is driving these changes, Canadians or investors in the Communist Party of China?
Randy Kamp: Mr. Speaker, the short answer to the question that the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands included in her question originally is that the latter is not true.
Let me provide a little more information. The Fisheries Act was originally established to protect Canada’s fisheries resources and define federal responsibilities for the management of fisheries and the related protection of fish and fish habitat.
The current habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act are broad in scope, requiring protection of all fish habitat, regardless of their value to Canadians. Concerns about the broad and even unintended scope of the application of the existing regulatory regime have been raised by stakeholders across this country. This country, not China.
Farmers and landowners have criticized the department for applying its mandate and resources to areas with low contribution for fisheries. In addition, significant risk to fisheries have emerged that are not appropriately considered in the Fisheries Act, such as those posed by aquatic invasive species.
Many stakeholders over the years have asked us to focus on the significant impacts to significant fisheries. Many stakeholders have also asked us to find ways to work more effectively with the provinces and conservation groups. They have asked us to apply our resources strategically to ensure that Canada’s fisheries can benefit Canadians today and for future generations.
In response to these challenges, the Government of Canada is proposing to renew and strengthen its current approach to management and fisheries protection through amendments to the Fisheries Act. These amendments would focus the government’s protection efforts on recreational, commercial and aboriginal fisheries.
It would also draw a distinction between vital waterways that support Canada’s fisheries and those that do not contribute to productive fisheries, such as drainage ditches in some cases and storm water management ponds.
They would identify and manage important threats to the fisheries, including direct impacts to fish, habitat destruction and aquatic invasive species.
Let me be clear that the rules will continue to protect Canadian fisheries waters from pollution, as they have in the past, and the proposed legislative amendments would provide additional clarity on the application of the law.
Proposed in Bill C-38 are a new suite of tools that help strengthen our protection of commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries. We will now be able to identify ecologically significant areas, such as critical spawning habitat for sockeye salmon and provide enhanced protection for those critical zones.
In addition, infractions under the Fisheries Act will now be aligned with those set out in the environmental enforcement act, which provides higher maximum penalties. This will ensure that those who break the rules are subject to stiffer penalties.
Through these amendments, we will also be able to establish new, clear, and accessible standards for projects in or near water. It makes good common sense that the government should be able to minimize or eliminate restrictions on routine activities that pose little or no threat to fisheries, while at the same time maintaining appropriate, reasonable and responsible protection for Canada’s commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries.
A renewed Fisheries Act will provide us with the tools to develop effective regulations prohibiting the import, transport and possession of live aquatic invasive species, such as Asian carp, which are threatening the Great Lakes.
The Government of Canada takes the protection of our country’s commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries very seriously. Given the importance of the fisheries from coast to coast to coast, we must focus our efforts on the effective protection of these fisheries. Their long-term sustainability and productivity are our priority.