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Tuesday, April 30th 2019 - Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act - Third Reading Debate

Oceans Act
Canada Petroleum Resources Act

Bill to Amend—Third Reading—Debate Continued

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On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Bovey, seconded by the Honourable Senator Omidvar, for the third reading of Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, as amended.

Hon. Rose-May Poirier: Honourable senators, I rise here today to speak at third reading on Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. I would like to take the opportunity to thank all the witnesses who appeared during our study with the Fisheries Committee as well as those who submitted written briefs. They were invaluable in our discussions and understanding of Bill C-55 and of its possible consequences, especially for the witnesses, who are on the frontline and out on the water, our fishermen.

Fisheries, honourable senators, are a unique sector of employment. On one hand, the fishermen exploit a resource to be consumed to generate jobs, economy and prosperity for their families and communities. On the other hand, the fishermen want to protect and conserve the resource for economic purposes on the short and medium term. But also, and mostly, because the fishermen care for the species, the water and the environment in the long-term.

To be a fisherman, I believe your first love is that of the open water, and its abundance of resources, not only out of love, but out of care for it.

I open with a quick statement on fishermen and their love for the ocean because they are the ones on the water. Like a witness said last week on another issue: “We are the eyes of the water.”

The first point I would like to make with Bill C-55 is a very important step of listening to our fishermen. In my experience, governments of all stripes and colours need to do a better job to put the fish harvesters’ concerns to a higher priority and to have a better collaboration.

Being from Saint-Louis de Kent in New Brunswick, where fisheries are the major employer, and not only a source of income for our region, but also a source of pride, I have heard too often how little the fishermen are listened to. It is one thing to be consulted, but if the consultations are not well done or barely used in the decision-making process, it does not help the relationship between the fishermen and the government.

That brings me, honourable senators, to Bill C-55. As a reminder for the honourable colleagues of this chamber, the objective of Bill C-55 is to reach domestic and international marine conservation targets of protecting 5 per cent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2017, and 10 per cent by 2020. To achieve the famous 10 per cent by 2020, the government proposed to fast track a marine protected area, an MPA, by installing an interim protection process.

The first issue I would like to discuss, honourable senators, is one we heard on a number of occasions from the people on the water. Everyone involved in the fisheries share as a common goal to conserve and preserve the resources. That was clear and evident throughout the study. The main issue when it comes to conservation was on the approach and methods; using the right conservation tool for the right conservation objective. When the wrong tool is being used, it is, most of the time, the fishermen who pay the price.

From the beginning of the study, we clearly saw the lack of confidence fishermen and different associations have with DFO when it comes to the MPAs. It focused around DFO’s ability and/or willingness to consult effectively and to properly consider the socio-economic impact of an MPA. Some witnesses said DFO’s capability to properly do a socio-economic impact was very weak.

We also heard from other witnesses where he said DFO simply refused to do the socio-economic impact because the time and cost of collecting the data would put them outside the arbitrary timelines they had already decided on.

There is not only a socio-economic impact, but also there is a cultural impact for many Indigenous communities. For example, Mr. Ken Paul spoke of the absence of transfer of culture and traditional activities from generation to generation:

There is also a cultural aspect. I am from the Atlantic region. We don’t really have healthy salmon stocks any more. For example, I have pictures of my grandfather with 30-pound Atlantic salmon. I’ve never seen that in my lifetime. What I’m missing in my lifetime and what my kids are missing is that transference of traditional activities and the ability to provide for the community and to provide for elders.

These are major concerns, honourable senators. When Mr. Paul talked about the transfer of the traditional activities, the transfer of culture, being from a coastal community, it really hit home. Everybody around the table agrees on protecting the ocean. If it’s not the right way, with the right tool, it deeply affects our communities. As an Acadian, I know how culture is rooted in our fisheries.

The second issue with Bill C-55 would be on the freezing of the footprints for 12 months. If someone was fishing in the area the 12 months before, you get to operate on an interim basis while science is being done. Not all fisheries are seasonal. Some are based on a cycle. As Ms. Christina Burridge said from the B.C. Seafood Alliance:

The geoduck or sea cucumbers on our coast are fished once every three years for conservation reasons. Other fisheries must not take place in a particular year because of environmental conditions, water quality or other harvesting limitations. They shouldn’t be automatically excluded from being able to operate during the interim period just because no fishing took place in the previous 12 months. We would like to see a longer time frame of three years or even six years, but three years for sure.

Not only on the type of fisheries but also on the migration of the fish. Fish tend to migrate from one area to another. With climate change and the water temperature varying, fish could migrate from one area that is not an MPA to an MPA. As it is currently in the bill, witnesses were concerned that the freezing of the footprint to 12 months would be too rigid. For example, Mr. Keith Sullivan, President of the Fish Food and Allied Workers, agreed:

Another area I didn’t concentrate on in the opening remarks was around freezing of the footprint. As we know, fish move and patterns are different. There are lots of reasons why a harvester wouldn’t operate in a given area for a year. There are too many reasons to list right now. To freeze that footprint in the year before needs some consideration. Some flexibility and common sense needs to be looked at as well. Freezing that footprint of the year before could be a problem area, particularly for fishing activities.

Although the 12 months covers a lot of the fisheries, it excludes some cycle-based fisheries. In these instances, if the officials said cycle-based fisheries would be protected with the licensing regime, clearly that message has either not reached the people it concerns or did not reassure them. Although my amendment at the committee was defeated, it is important to put on record the fishermen and their associations’ concerns.

Finally, an important question was asked on the purpose of this bill. Everyone agreed we need to protect our oceans and resources, but done the right way. The concern was raised on the perception of the government being motivated to attain the artificial goal of 10 per cent instead of doing proper conservation. Some witnesses, like Carey Bonnell, Vice-President of the Ocean Choice International brought forward we are on track to attain the 10 per cent. I quote:

The stability of access challenges caused by MPAs is deeply concerning and could grow more acute. Canada is on track to meet the United Nations Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s target of 10 per cent of marine protected areas by 2020, not without considerable pain for fishing communities.

The gravity of the importance was not taken lightly by the members of this committee as well as by the witnesses. When faced with the five-year limit of an MPA, the short timeline to do all the necessary work was a concern. Generally, an MPA takes seven to 10 years for the proper scientific study, the consultations and all other necessary work to take place. Trying to fit all of that in a five-year window worries the stakeholders on what impact it will have on their activities and livelihoods but also how effective will these MPAs be for the proper conservation in harmony with the ocean and lessen the impact of the coastal communities vitality?

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I reiterate the willingness of the witnesses to propose solutions to the government to amend the legislation in a way it would not affect the overachieving goal of the conservation. They wanted to work within the legislation as a partner in a collaborative manner to attain the right balance of a socio-economic and cultural impact for their respective communities, in addition to effective conservation. It speaks volumes on their seriousness to be effective partners and collaborators with the government.

A parallel I would like to address, honourable senators, is with the recent situation in my home Province of New Brunswick regarding the protection of the North-Atlantic right whale. Consultation with stakeholders was key subject of discussions and concerns during our study of this bill, because they are at the heart of the relationships between the fishermen and government officials of DFO. As some of you may know, restrictions were placed during their fishing season, mainly on the dynamic and static zones closures. During the process leading up to the zone closures, lobster fishermen felt they weren’t properly consulted. They wanted to be a partner with the government in the common goal of protecting the North-Atlantic right whale. They had solutions of their own, which would have been a middle ground and have minimum impact on their daily operation while also contributing to protecting the whale. Unfortunately, the government decided to have a unilateral approach and went with a decision that has caused stress, anxiety and uncertainty for these families and communities for several months.

All of this could have been avoided with proper consultation and closer collaboration. But on that issue, with the North-Atlantic right whale, I have to say the new minister’s handling of the issue seems more open to working with the fishermen compared to last year. Hopefully, we will not see a repeat of the situation this year.

Furthermore, we also heard concerns there were provisions for compensation for oil and gas licences lost due to the process but none for the fisheries. In my view, this is unfair to the fisheries sector. Again, it brings to me the relationship between the fish harvesters and the government. How could we move toward a better collaborative relationship? Why is the government covering the losses for the oil sector and not the fisheries sector? No one wants to assume it was done in bad faith, but the impression is certainly there.

Finally, as all of you know by now, the bill came back amended, with strong amendments proposed by Senators Patterson and McInnis. They were done in spirit of the bill and would make the legislation stronger. As Senator Bovey, the sponsor of the bill, previously stated in her third-reading speech, two amendments were adopted, one by Senator Patterson, which was adopted with two abstentions, and one by Senator McInnis, which was adopted with two nays. I supported these two amendments at committee, because we had heard these particular issues as the main concern for our witnesses.

I respect Senator Bovey’s position of not fully supporting the amendments. I would ask this chamber, my fellow honourable senators, to trust the tremendous work done by the Fisheries Committee members who participated in the study on Bill C-55.

Like I said earlier, the fisheries are unique. It’s one of those areas where you almost have to live it to understand it. When the government comes in to make modifications to how communities live their lives, it will have a profound impact. That’s what MPAs do: They bring a lot of uncertainty for everyone involved. The government defends its position by saying, “No, no. We will consult,” but like we have heard so often, they don’t. The government has one goal in mind and will go through any means to get it. By adding these amendments, we are helping the communities and ensuring the government does its work fully and properly. I hope the government in the other place will give the amendments the proper attention and seriousness they deserve.

To conclude, honourable senators, the motivations of all these concerns were threefold. First was the uncertainty for the fish harvesters around the consultation process, how effective it would be and to what extent the government will listen. Second was the feeling of rushing legislation to obtain an arbitrary and political goal of 10 per cent by 2020. Third was the overall impact of interim MPAs on their daily operations, their livelihoods and communities.

As Mr. Keith Sullivan, President of the Fish Food and Allied Workers Union, said so well during our committee meetings, “It’s not the idea of protecting these areas that are of concern for the fish harvesters, but to get it right.” That is the question I’ve been asking myself the whole time we’ve been studying this bill. Are we achieving the right balance for the harvesters? Are the MPAs, described as a huge hammer, the only tool to protect the oceans? Is Bill C-55 the right answer to our shared goal —

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator, your time has expired.

Senator Poirier: May I have five more minutes?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Are honourable senators in agreement?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Poirier: Thank you.

Is Bill C-55 the right answer to our shared goal of marine conservation, or is it just being used as a means to attain a target? I leave you with these questions, honourable senators. I, frankly, do not have the answers, but they should always be at the forefront of our questions when we discuss conservation measures for our oceans. Thank you.

(On motion of Senator Gold, debate adjourned.)

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