Bill C-68 goes a long way to repair the Fisheries Act

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by acknowledging we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people, and express gratitude to them for their generosity and patience. Meegwetch.

I also want to thank the hon. member for Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook for sharing his time with me, and acknowledge this shows a spirit of respect toward opposition benches from the current Liberal Party. I am a government. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, although I still must object to the use of time allocation and reducing time for debate in this place. However, the respect shown in shortening time, but still allowing a member such as myself to have at least one crack in second reading to this very important legislation, is appreciated. It is particularly appreciated when I stand to speak with shared time from a Liberal member and have the intention of attacking Liberal legislation, which I have done recently with shared time.

Today is a different occasion. Bill C-68 would repair the damage done to the Fisheries Act under former budget implementation omnibus bill, Bill C-38, in the spring of 2012, as the hon. member for Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook was just referencing. This bill goes a long way, and within the ambit of what the minister of fisheries can do, would repair the damage done by omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38, in relation to the Fisheries Act. I want to speak to that, as well as the one aspect where it would not fully repair the damage.

This is definitely a historic piece of legislation. The Fisheries Act was brought in under Sir John A. Macdonald. Canada has had a fisheries act for 150 years. That act traditionally dealt with what is constitutionally enshrined as federal jurisdiction over fish, and some people may wonder where the environment landed in the Constitution of Canada and the British North America Act. Where was the environment? The fish are federal, and the water is provincial if it is freshwater and federal if it is ocean water, so there has always been a mixed jurisdiction over the environment.

Over fish, there has been no question. Fish are federal. In the early 1980s, this act received a significant improvement, which was to recognize fish move around and that fish cannot be protected without protecting their habitat. The Fisheries Act was modernized with a real degree of environmental protection. It had always been a strong piece of environmental legislation, because if we protect fish then we tend to protect everything around them.

In this case, the Fisheries Act was improved in the early eighties by a former minister of fisheries, who by accident of history, happened to be the father of the current minister of fisheries. It was the Right. Hon. Roméo LeBlanc. We use the term “right honourable” because he went on to be our governor general. He amended the Fisheries Act in the 1980s to include protection of fish habitat, requiring a permit from a federal minister of fisheries if that habitat was either temporarily or permanently harmed or damaged. This piece of legislation is the significant pillar upon which much of Canada’s environmental regulation rested.

What happened in Bill C-38 in the spring of 2012 was a travesty that remains in the annals of parliamentary history the single worst offence against environmental legislation and protection by any government. It was followed up with a second omnibus budget bill in fall of 2012, Bill C-45, which took an axe to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. In the spring, Bill C-38 repealed the Environmental Assessment Act and replaced it with a bogus act, which I will return to and discuss. Bill C-38 also repealed the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, the National Roundtable on Environment and the Economy, and gutted the Fisheries Act.

Rather than go on about that, the hon. member who was just speaking referenced the changes made. I can tell people some of the changes that were made, and I was so pleased to see them repealed. When one opens a copy of Bill C-68, the first thing one sees is section 1(1), “The definitions commercial, Indigenous and recreational in subsection 2(1) of the Fisheries Act are repealed.” This is not a scientific thing, this is what Bill C-38 did to our Fisheries Act. Fish were no longer fish. They were only fish if they were commercial, indigenous, or recreational. That language came straight from a brief from industry. It did not come from civil servants within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, it came from the Canadian Electricity Association. That is repealed.

This bill would bring back protections for habitat. It goes back to looking at some of the foundational pieces of how the Fisheries Act is supposed to work, and then it goes farther.

Larry Bagnell – Member for Yukon

Mr. Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for the member for both her excellent knowledge on the environment and also on process. She started out talking about process and time allocation, and I would like to ask her, because of her expertise in that area, for a solution.

We are sent to Parliament to accomplish. There is so much that has to be done in the year, and along with dilatory motions and everything, there has to be a way to get everything in. What some legislatures in the world use is programming, but there did not seem to be appetite in opposition parties for that solution. Therefore, I wonder what the member would suggest, in light of the fact that in this and previous Parliaments, a number of dilatory motions can stop the agenda. How can any government get its program through Parliament, on important bills like this, within a year, in the time it has?

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Yukon for a very useful question, because I would love to see us fix the problem. I talked to colleagues of mine in the parliament of Westminster. There is one Green Party member there, Caroline Lucas, leader of the Greens of UK and Wales. She said do not go for that programming thing because it really does fast track bills without enough time for debate.

What we should do is open up the process here. The hon. leader of the government in the House, the whip, gets frustrated and says they have to bring in time allocation because they are not going to get the bill through. What is happening is the secretiveness of House leaders and whips. They are trying to figure out how to schedule something. If those meetings were open, imagine if I could go to them. Imagine if any member could go and they could say, “Our side isn’t even being reasonable here. We ought to be able to provide a list of how many speakers we have on the bill”.

Another very helpful thing would be if we followed the rules that we still have, but which are now viewed as no longer in effect, that no member be allowed to give a speech that is a written speech. If a member had to come here and give a speech on what they know about the bill without notes, I think we would not find so many people at the last minute willing to stand up and give a speech on the matter before this place, and we might find we could move along more expeditiously, as they do in the parliament of Westminster, where the only people speaking are those intimately knowledgeable of the question at hand.

Alistair MacGregor Member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford

Mr. Speaker, I thank my neighbour from Saanich—Gulf Islands for her speech. As she knows, my riding is home to the iconic Cowichan River, which is a designated heritage river in British Columbia, and home to salmon habitat.

I have handed a lot of petitions to the government on the status of the Lake Cowichan weir, which is responsible for managing flow rates into the Cowichan River. The government has acknowledged that summer low flows in the Cowichan River are a threat to fish and fish habitat, but there does not seem to be any explicit legal protection for environmental flows in the bill. I would like to hear her comments on that.

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, the issue around environmental flows is one place we might be able to see this legislation amended. However, even as we are currently looking at it, the question of protection of habitat when an artificial weir, such as the one at Lake Cowichan, and the flow rates have the effect of threatening the salmon population, I think the minister of fisheries would still have the power to act to protect those salmon.

However, the introduction of the term “environment flows” would clarify the matter, and I certainly would support it.

Todd Doherty – Member for Cariboo—Prince George

Mr. Speaker, I have one question. Does my hon. colleague have any evidence where the harmful cuts—and those are the words being put forth—the cuts or the changes that were made in 2012 to the Fisheries Act, made by the previous government, caused harmful destruction to fish and fish habitat?

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, this is my first opportunity to address the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George since he returned from an illness, and I am so happy to see him back on the floor of the House.

I can give many examples from just my own riding. We had clam beds on Salt Spring Island that were being over-harvested, and habitat was not being protected. When residents of my community contacted Fisheries and Oceans it said it could not get there and do anything about it, and could not protect that habitat anymore. Every single fisheries officer within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was also given a pink slip, so they did not have the capacity to go out and help.

I heard from some of my halibut fishing constituents that they were having trouble with habitat issues. It was widespread and quite disastrous, so we need to bring back the law and the individual officers who enforce the law.