Fin in the House: Liberal bill on Marine Protected Areas fails to set minimum protection standards

Mr. Fin Donnelly (Port Moody—Coquitlam, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, I want to provide those who are watching, and members, with a number of points about what we do and do not support in the legislation. The bill would provide some new legal tools that would speed up the creation of marine protected areas, but it falls far short of Canada's international commitments to protect our marine biodiversity.

    The bill fails to set minimum protection standards, and I will speak a little more about that, and targets for zoning for marine protected areas, which renders the designation inconsistent at best and meaningless at worst. It would give the minister far too much latitude to decide what activities would be permissible in an MPA. If oil and gas exploration can take place in an MPA, what is the point of the designation? Those are some of our concerns.

    I want to talk about the NDP's proposed amendments at the Standing Committee for Fisheries and Oceans. We had five major themes. All were supported by witness testimony.

    Our first theme was focused on establishing minimum protection standards. It makes sense that if we do not have a minimum basic standard with respect to protection, it gets very hard for either industry or for those concerned about protection, such as governments, nations, and first nations, to know exactly what is the definition criteria and how they meet a minimum basic level of protection. The government could focus a lot more on that.

    The second theme was maintaining ecological integrity as the primary objective of an MPA, or marine protected area. That is critical and achieved through networks and other areas of protection, either federal designations, or at provincial or indigenous levels. All can play part in a constructive network of protection and protected areas. Maintaining that ecological integrity is critical for the whole concept behind an MPA.

    The third theme was creating co-governance with indigenous peoples and establishing the authority of indigenous guardians. This is a critical element today of managing our resources, our oceans, our lands, and our watersheds. We just saw on the floor of the House of Commons an unprecedented ceremony recognizing those wrongs that were made prior to Confederation, but now being acknowledged by the government, and how our new relationship with first nations must be, which must include co-management. When we talk about marine protected areas, we must recognize a new way of managing and protecting our oceans.

    The fourth theme was establishing no-take zones. This is a critical element to which the international community has drawn. I will speak more about that in a minute, about the importance of having some areas within the MPA. It does not have to be the entire area, but scientific evidence shows the more areas that are no-take or that have the highest level of protection flourish the best. There will be protection of sensitive ecosystems when no-take zones are established. Canada falls far behind when looking specifically at no-take zones.

    Finally, the fifth theme was to facilitate the implementation of a network of MPAs, not just specifically looking at the protected areas off and on land. We look at parks, but on the water we call them marine protected areas. Like on land, we need to provide connectivity. Establishing networks of MPAs is a critical element.

    Other elements touched on similar themes. I will highlight the ones we heard at the standing committee. Ecological integrity, network ability of MPAs, and the recognition of indigenous rights were passed at the committee stage. Our proposed amendments were stronger, and it was regretful that they were defeated.

    Many witnesses at committee supported the bill, but they also supported our proposed amendments. On November 23 of last year, Linda Nowlan, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law testified:


    The law is currently very inconsistent. As you've heard and will probably continue to hear, people are astonished to learn that oil and gas exploration, undersea mining, and damaging fishing activities are all possible in the tiny fraction of the sea that we call marine protected areas. That's why an unprecedented 70,000 Canadians, members of the public, spoke out about one of the proposed new MPAs, Laurentian Channel, and said that we need to keep harmful activities out of these areas.

    On November 21, Bill Wareham, the science projects manager of the David Suzuki Foundation, testified about the need to strengthen the bill with respect to indigenous protected areas. He said:


     I think the other area of the act that needs strengthening is the area of indigenous protected areas. Many indigenous peoples have a longstanding interest in conserving resources and protecting areas of their traditional territory, and there's an opportunity to enable the government to accommodate indigenous protected areas, which are determined, managed, and governed by indigenous people. This amendment would not only facilitate additional conservation of natural resources, but would take Canada further down the path of reconciliation with indigenous communities.

    On November 9, Susanna Fuller, senior marine conservation coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, testified the following:


     It makes no sense not to prohibit open net-pen aquaculture, for example, in a protected area that includes an important river for wild Atlantic salmon. It makes no sense to allow seismic testing and oil and gas drilling in areas that are important for marine mammals, or that are closed to bottom fishing to protect deep-sea coral and sponges. Essentially, our Oceans Act MPAs are lacking in some key ground rules that, perhaps, could not have been foreseen when it was drafted 20 years ago.


    Third, the current lack of standards in this Oceans Act, and more broadly the lack of standards across all of the tools used to protect the marine environment—National Marine Conservation Areas, Fisheries Act closures—means that there is confusion at the ground level, which is not necessary. Canadians expect that in our terrestrial protected areas industrial activities will not be permitted. In the marine environment—and I think you've received our brief already that we put together with several other NGOs from across Canada—we're strongly advocating that activities like bottom trawling, oil and gas exploration and development, open net-pen aquaculture, and seabed mining should simply not happen in our marine protected areas. This does not preclude other low-impact human uses, like fishing with low-impact gear, ecotourism, and marine transportation.

    The scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that bottom trawling has significant damaging impacts to sea floor ecosystems, and that no-take fishing areas are a key component of effective MPAs. Research shows that MPAs that permit varying levels of fishing and other activities are less effective at achieving biodiversity than fully protected areas.

    International best practices suggest MPA core no-take zones should encompass 75% of a given MPA. Canada is nowhere close to reaching that high bar. Remember, this is the international community looking at examples in countries around the world that say they have the most success when there is the establishment of large no-take zones within the MPAs. Again, it is a very small fraction of a country's economic zone in the ocean. We are talking about a small sliver of the ocean.

    Right now, the minister has the discretion to determine what activities are allowed in an MPA and how restrictive each zone in an MPA can be. So far, Canada's fisheries minister has implemented a no-take zone in only five MPAs, and those areas are tiny when compared to the overall MPAs. Canada should follow international examples and make no-take zones the rule rather than the exception when it comes to MPAs.

    We believe that reconciliation should be a part of all legislation. Additional designations are welcome tools, but it does not make sense to exclude explicit recognition of indigenous rights in the Oceans Act. Given the implications of MPAs for indigenous constitutional rights, it is irresponsible. The federal government's commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and working in true nation-to-nation relationships with Canada's indigenous peoples, consistent with the Canadian Constitution, should be reflected in the Oceans Act.

    Marine protected areas are an opportunity to forward the cause of reconciliation, but Bill C-55 fails to include specific provisions to accomplish this. There are already successful examples in Canada of co-management that the government could look to for inspiration. There is the co-management agreement between the Haida Nation on the west coast of Canada and the Government of Canada on the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, or Parks Canada's co-operative management model in the Arctic. Those are a couple of examples. Best practices should be the rule and not the exception.

    There has been some discussion about going too far or not far enough. Let us remember, if we go back to 1992, when the international community came together, that Canada signed on to a commitment to protect 5%, and then 10% of our oceans. That was over 25 years ago. Therefore, when I hear the Conservatives say that this is going too fast, or that we are protecting too much, we have to look at the context and talk about how we are doing. It is only just recently that we have managed to surpass 5% protection, and many of those MPAs do not enjoy strong protection of things like no-take zones.

    If we look from the perspective of where we are, many countries are much further ahead than Canada is. Given that they have done much more since 1992 to look at protection of their oceans, Canada has a long way to go. This is a move in the right direction. Consultation is critical. We need to get it right. I do not argue at all when it comes to taking the time to get it right, in terms of consulting, whether it is with territories, provinces, first nations, industry, or environmental organizations, those who are really concerned about our oceans and marine ecosystems, but at some point, we need to move forward with achieving the protection that is needed in order to provide a healthy, flourishing ocean.

    The bottom line is that our oceans are in serious trouble. I remember reading a report back in 2012 from the United Nations top marine scientist, who pointed out that the major predators in our oceans are in steep decline. For instance, we are losing sharks at a phenomenal rate. Back then, I read that we are losing between 38 million and 70 million sharks a year.

    The scientific knowledge has increased since 2012. Scientists are finding that up to 100 million sharks a year are being killed for their fins. Those predators play a key role in maintaining ecosystem balance. That is just one example of what is happening in our oceans.

    When we look at marine ecosystem issues, we are swimming in oceans full of plastics. In some areas, it is microplastics. They are a huge problem. When we look at the issue of climate change, our oceans are changing rapidly. Ocean acidification is happening at an alarming rate.

    These issues have to be dealt with. The world needs to come together. Canada needs to play its part. Protecting portions of the ocean in the exclusive economic zone is a way to do that. This is one tool in the toolbox. We need to do more. We need to move faster.

    Again, I appreciate the comments about consultation, because it is critically important that all who have an interest in our oceans and ocean ecosystems are included in important decisions.

    I hope the legislation moves forward. I hope the government listens to the amendments and the concerns. I hope it incorporates them to get this bill right, because that is what is needed. I hope that the Liberals listen to the NDP's thoughtful and optimistic comments about what we heard from many witnesses who testified, not just at the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans but in general in writing to me over the years.


Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.):  

    Mr. Speaker, the government has been listening consistently on this issue, virtually since taking office, all the way up to committee stage. My understanding is that there were a number of amendments proposed, particularly from the leader of the Green Party, and incorporated into what we have here today.

    I am wondering if my colleague could provide his thoughts on the four specific amendments brought in. Does he have anything to add specifically with respect to those amendments, recognizing that there is always room to grow in the future? This is not the last chapter of the book on such an important issue, because we have a very aggressive, progressive Atlantic caucus, in particular, and in the coastal region of British Columbia, on this file. All MPs of all political stripes are concerned about our oceans.


Mr. Fin Donnelly:  

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague's question about the amendments. I mentioned in my speech that unfortunately, the amendments we put forward were not accepted at the standing committee. They were defeated, and the government has not incorporated the five I talked about.

      I talked about establishing minimum protection standards, maintaining ecological integrity, creating co-governance with indigenous people, establishing no-take zones, and facilitating the implementation of networks and MPAs. Those were areas of concern we put forward. We heard from witnesses who testified that these are important areas. Unfortunately, the government did not listen on those elements.

    I appreciate my hon. colleague's comments that they will look at this going forward. I hope they do. I know that the minister has committed to looking at minimum protection standards by establishing an advisory body to get input. I appreciate that and think it is important. However, we need to have that in the legislation.


Mr. Mel Arnold (North Okanagan—Shuswap, CPC):  

     Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam for his comments and his background on the fisheries file. It is an honour to work with him on the fisheries committee.

     I want to use my knowledge and background in conservation and the member for Red Deer—Lacombe's background in conservation in parks. One of the things we have seen from our work on the ground is that there is a difference between conservation and preservation. With conservation, one uses the resource responsibly but receives a benefit from that use so that one has something to put back into the resource afterward. In the case of preservation, as in some of these marine protected areas being proposed, the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam is proposing no-take zones. That means one has to provide something from nothing or else take something from somewhere else to support what one is doing. To me that sounds like the difference between conservatism and socialism.

     I would like the member to explain what he would be taking from to provide these fully no-take zones. Obviously, that cannot happen. How would it relate to the inability to do anything in overall predator or wildlife management within these no-take zones? We have seen the dangers of that. In Yellowstone National Park, the wolves and major predators were removed from that area but have since been re-established there. Without any controls, they are now wreaking havoc on the beef industry down there. How does the member propose that those types of issues would be dealt with in those no-take areas?


Mr. Fin Donnelly:  

    Mr. Speaker, the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap raises an important point. First, I want to respond with respect to the context.

     I hope I made it clear in my speech that we are talking about a small percentage of the ocean in our economic exclusive zone on all three coasts in our country. It is only a small sliver of the economic zone we are referring to when we look at marine protected areas, MPAs, within those areas. When we look at the exclusive zone, we are talking about only 5% to 10%. We are talking about a tiny percentage of the exclusive zone. When I mentioned no-take zones, I was talking about a percentage of the MPA itself, so it is an even smaller part. This is with the idea that MPAs should play a role in helping to protect marine biodiversity and in helping it flourish. Over the last quarter of a century, we have seen the opposite happen. That is why we need to protect our oceans, our oceans economy, and the communities that rely on them.

      I know that the member is talking about wise use and stewardship. I appreciate those. I think they are important areas. Conservation is critical. Preservation is also critical. I used the example of sharks. We are at a point where we are beyond wise use and stewardship. It is critical that we continue to do that. However, we have to look at preservation, or we are going to lose these amazing animals we rely on not only for our community and for their cultural importance but for our economy.



Mr. Richard Cannings (South Okanagan—West Kootenay, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Port Moody—Coquitlam for his excellent speech, and especially for the history of this whole process. Here we are, 25 years after our commitments were made, and we have done essentially nothing to reach those commitments. We are at 5%. Australia and the United States are at over 30%. I wanted to give him a bit more time to talk about the importance of the no-take zones he mentioned briefly and how they encourage biodiversity and the growth of populations. We also have endangered species, such as the North Atlantic right whale, which is heading rapidly toward extinction off our east coast, yet we are doing nothing, really, to stop that tragic consequence.


Mr. Fin Donnelly:  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the hard work that my friend from South Okanagan—West Kootenay did before he even became a Member of Parliament on, mostly, terrestrial biodiversity and his knowledge of biodiversity in general. I do appreciate his comments. He comes from an important and learned place when he talks about why it is important to have no-take zones within marine protected areas.

    Traditional knowledge has shown that where there is human activity, where there is a lot of industrial human activity, it is very detrimental to the ecosystem. There are impacts in areas where we have fished, in areas where we have introduced oil and gas. The importance of having no-take zones to allow the marine ecosystem, those mammals, those fish species, those shellfish, to flourish, come back, and thrive is critical.

    I am glad that my colleague asked me about the history I mentioned. I brought that up in my speech because it is so important to provide context. I referenced the last 25 years, a quarter century, but if we look back over the last 200 years all the trends are not good in terms of some of the major impacts from industrial use and the way we conduct ourselves in the marine area. 

    We obviously have to do things differently if we want these magnificent animals to survive and thrive. If we want our coastal communities and their ocean economies to survive and thrive, we need to do things differently. We need to look at providing protections. We need to look at networks of MPAs in protected areas.