Fin in the House: Questioning the government about breaking their promise to consult the ‘Namgis First Nation

Fin Donnelly Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to follow up on a question I asked the minister on November 8, 2017. At that time, it was day 76 of the occupation of two open net salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago. I asked the minister if he would meet with B.C. and First Nations governments to discuss moving these farms off the wild salmon migration route, yes or no. The minister replied, “The simple answer is yes.” Today is day 208, and they are still waiting. They have no other choice but to take the government to court.

The 'Namgis First Nation is in court this week, seeking a judicial review of Fisheries and Oceans Canada policy that does not mandate testing for the blood virus, piscine reovirus, or PRV, before the scheduled transfer of Atlantic salmon smolts to Marine Harvest's open net salmon farm in 'Namgis territory. The first nation is also seeking an injunction to prevent the minister from issuing a licence permitting the transfer of those smolts.

Despite the First Nations' repeated attempts to engage the minister on this crucial issue and despite what the minister says, he has not consulted with them.

Even with their constitutionally protected rights and the government's promise to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, Canada has not consulted nor sought 'Namgis consent to the unlawful transfer of disease-infested salmon into its territory.

Chief Don Svanvik states:

We have made every attempt to engage Canada in good faith on their PRV policy and the transfer of Atlantic salmon into our territory, but it refused to consult with us...Namgis has no other option to protect wild salmon, our title and rights and ultimately who we are as a people but to ask the Court to intervene to prevent the serious, irreversible harm being visited upon us by Canada and Marine Harvest.

As the parliamentary secretary knows, I asked the minister about this at committee this morning. The minister said that he had the opportunity to meet with 'Namgis leadership in previous visits to B.C. and that senior officials were in regular contact. He said that the assertion that they did not or had not consulted with 'Namgis was not representative. However, a press release from the 'Namgis states:

Marine Harvest is preparing to restock their Swanson Island fish farm approximately 16 km east of Alert Bay (‘Namgis territory) with Atlantic salmon despite ‘Namgis’ strenuous objection and lack of consent....the Minister has not consulted with ‘Namgis and has not even replied to any of the multiple letters ‘Namgis has sent to the Minister over the last three months.

Is this what First Nations can expect from the government when it comes to consultation?

Will the government accept the 'Namgis' assertion that they have not been consulted and call them instead of forcing them into court?

The parliamentary secretary is from British Columbia. He is fully aware of the following. When it comes to RAS, recirculating aquatic systems, the train is leaving the station and B.C. is not on it; Canada is not on it. Canada has no strategy for modernizing salmon aquaculture. Land-based closed containment aquaculture represents an opportunity for Canada, B.C. in particular, to play a leading role in an emerging market.

Terry Beech Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for his comments. He and I are neighbours; we share a border. We also share a passion for serving our constituents, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak to this issue today.

As a British Columbian, I understand the very real concerns that individuals have about finfish aquaculture. In fact, since taking the role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, I have spent a considerable amount of time researching and learning about this particular issue. I have done site visits at facilities throughout British Columbia, have had meetings with stakeholders, and have worked with members of the Pacific caucus who have expressed great interest in the overarching issue. I have compiled more than 500 pages of reports and have participated in meetings with more than 100 stakeholders.

The situation is of concern to our government, and we are very much looking for constructive ways to move forward in a way that is satisfactory to indigenous people, the aquaculture industry, the province, as well as the federal government. As we have said many times before, the only way we can find solutions to these situations is through meaningful and constructive dialogue. We saw demonstrations of this when we held various symposiums last summer.

The minister has previously noted the many opportunities he has had to discuss aquaculture in British Columbia with provincial and indigenous leaders, covering the full range of issues in respect of environmental concerns, scientific evidence, the importance of the sector as an economic driver, and importantly, following through on the government's response to recommendations made by the Cohen commission. These meetings are always fruitful and aim to find common ground.

Of paramount importance in these discussions is respect, respect for the rights of indigenous people, respect for the rights of individuals to engage in peaceful protest, as well as respect for free enterprise that is operating within the regulatory framework which has been put in place to protect the marine environment.

The aquaculture sector currently has 20 economic development agreements with numerous indigenous nations covering approximately 80% of all salmon farms in the province. Moreover, industry has committed that no new farms will be developed without the full support and direct participation of indigenous communities. This, combined with the broader national discussion, is an important backdrop through which to consider the situation at hand and the occupation of the farms in question.

While we may not be able to reach a similar agreement in this particular case, I do believe that industry as well as indigenous communities can co-exist in the province. In fact, I have been encouraged by the many conversations I have had that point to how we can work closely together to create real economic benefits for communities while protecting our marine environment.

Our government also takes our commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples very seriously and we are actively committed to building a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples. The minister and I had the opportunity to discuss how this can be accomplished in concrete terms with four different indigenous groups when we visited British Columbia just last week.

Renewed nation-to-nation relationships based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership is the foundation for transformative change. Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials are presently engaged in concluding negotiations for treaties and reconciliation agreements at six treaty tables in British Columbia alone.

I believe that through these and other respectful and constructive discussions, we are demonstrating to the Canadian people and the world that we are following through with our commitment to indigenous peoples.

 

Fin Donnelly Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's comments, but I ask him to encourage his government to work with the Namgis First Nation and its company Kuterra on a transition plan to modernize this industry to safe, land-based, closed containment. Speaking of that, it is very time sensitive that Canada move on this.

I want to point out a few very important facts. Several commercial-scale Atlantic salmon land-based, closed containment projects are already underway around the world. The U.S.A. has six facilities in development that will produce more than 200,000 tonnes of land-based farmed salmon. Other countries that are also following this lead are Norway, Scotland, Denmark, Poland, South Africa, Switzerland, China, and France. Here in Canada we have three companies, Kuterra, CanAqua, and Sustainable Blue, and they—

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Anthony Rota

Order. The hon. parliamentary secretary:

Terry Beech Burnaby North—Seymour, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member opposite bringing up RAS and closed containment. I, along with the member from West Vancouver, had the opportunity to visit Kuterra in British Columbia last summer and tour the facility with indigenous leaders from the community. We have also worked with many stakeholders to examine the potential of this technology.

In our most recent budget we invested in the fisheries and aquaculture clean technology adoption program which encourages Canadian fisheries and aquaculture industries to reduce the potential environmental impacts of their activities. In addition, our government continues to respect our commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights Indigenous Peoples, not only through treaty table discussions on fisheries, but in many other areas as well.

Again, as I noted in my previous comments, we are concerned with the ongoing protests at aquaculture sites in the Broughton archipelago and are very much committed to taking concrete steps toward a respectful and constructive solution.