Speech on Gutting of Environmental and Fisheries Regulations

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the NDP opposition day motion.

One-third of the budget implementation act is dedicated to gutting environmental laws that protect Canada's fisheries, rivers, oceans and ecosystems. With the stroke of a pen the government would eliminate decades of progress and condemn future generations to deal with its mess. The biggest theme I drew from the budget is the government's focus on mega-industrial projects at the expense of Canada's environment.

Behind the guise of words such as “streamlining” and “modernization”, the government would strip away long-standing regulations that protect our environment from short-sighted unsustainable development.

I would like to speak about the changes to the Fisheries Act that the Conservative government is attempting to sneak in through its Trojan Horse budget bill. These changes are an undemocratic and egregious abuse of power that would do permanent harm to the ecosystem and to Canada's fisheries. Make no mistake, these are radical and dangerous changes. Rather than prohibiting the harmful alteration, disruption and destruction of fish habitat, it would narrow habitat protection to apply to those activities that would harm fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery, or the fish that support such a fishery.

The government introduced the concept of “serious harm”, which talks about killing fish and permanently altering habitat. The question that a judge would now be faced with is to determine what constitutes “permanent”. Is that two years? Is that 10 years? Or is that 100 years?

What the Conservative government does not seem to understand is the concept of ecosystem health or biodiversity. If it did, it would know that one cannot protect one species of fish and forsake others.

Looking at the budget implementation act, it becomes even more evident that the Conservative government is not governing based upon fact or science. It certainly did not listen to the 625 scientists who wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, outlining their concerns with the removal of habitat protection from the Fisheries Act.

In March, a group of Canadian scientists, including many of Canada's most senior ecologists and aquatic scientists, stated:

Habitat is the water or land necessary for the survival of all species, including fish. All species, including humans, require functioning ecosystems based on healthy habitats. The number of animals and plants of any species that can be supported is in direct proportion to availability of habitat, which supplies food and shelter. Habitat destruction is the most common reason for species decline. All ecologists and fisheries scientists around the world agree on these fundamental points, and the Fisheries Act has been essential to protecting fish habitats and the fisheries they support in Canada.

The scientists called for a strengthening of the Fisheries Act, as well as the Species at Risk Act, and the Migratory Birds Convention Act. Yet the Conservative government is doing the exact opposite and sneaking it through, in a most undemocratic way, I might add, its budget implementation act.

The government is also not listening to the Association of Professional Biology, which said:

It is well documented that protection of habitat is the most effective means to avoid species decline and extinction and ensure populations remain resilient to future and ongoing impacts, such as climate change and the cumulative effects on human activities.... The removal of habitat from the Act risks narrowing its focus onto only a limited number of species or stocks...

The government's refusal to listen to science is nothing new. The government has, in the past, muzzled scientists and completely cut programs that it does not agree with.

However, it is not even listening to the wisdom of its own former ministers of fisheries and oceans. Tom Siddon, a former Conservative minister of fisheries and oceans and the architect of the modern-day Fisheries Act, has blasted the government over the changes. He said, “This is a covert attempt to gut the Fisheries Act and it's appalling that they should be attempting to do this under the radar.”

I completely agree.

It is not just Mr. Siddon who is raising the alarm. Another former Conservative minister of fisheries, John Fraser, had this to say:

To take habitat out of the Fisheries Act is a very serious error because you can't save fish if you don't save habitat, and I say this as a lifelong conservative. People who want to eliminate the appropriate safeguards that should be made in the public interest, these people aren't conservatives at all.... They are ideological right-wingers with very, very limited understanding, intelligence or wisdom.

That is a pretty damning indictment of the current Conservative regime and very strong words.

Recently, former member of Parliament and current leader of the B.C. Conservative Party, John Cummins, stated:

There is that potential for serious damage to the fisheries resource if we move in the way that's proscribed.

He further stated:

I expect that there will be justly deserved widespread criticism as the effect of these amendments becomes known in recreational and commercial fishing communities across Canada.

There is already widespread concern in the commercial and recreational fishing communities. I have been hearing from Canadians across the country who are concerned about these changes.

The natural environment is a part of the Canadian fabric. We take pride in the bounty of amazing nature that we have been blessed with. As a British Columbian, I am proud to live in one of the most beautiful regions in the world, but I am concerned, as are many people, that the Conservatives' oil pipeline and tanker agenda will alter our environment permanently.

British Columbians are concerned in particular about the plans to ship raw bitumen off B.C.'s rugged and wild north coast. They are worried about the two proposed pipelines that would traverse our land with the potential to leak particularly in the over 800 streams they would cross.

We know that the weakening of the Fisheries Act will help make the short-sighted pipeline project a reality. British Columbians and other Canadians will not even be given an opportunity to comment on this bill. This is the real travesty of this legislation; the lack of public consultation is undemocratic and wrong.

First nations, provinces, territories, municipalities, fishermen, and all those Canadians who are concerned about fish, fish habitat and the environment have not been consulted on these changes. Many Canadians enjoy recreational fishing with their families and camping in the summer. This bill will affect their ability to enjoy nature. It has a major impact on the natural environment, yet they will not be given a say. It is truly atrocious.

The budget implementation act allows the government to ram through changes to the Fisheries Act without scrutiny, study, oversight or input from Canadians. Because these changes have not been studied, it is impossible to know their full economic, social and environmental implications.

Canadians are rightly angry that the current government is content with downloading major environmental costs to future generations.

Trevor Greene, a retired captain who went to war in Afghanistan, wrote a scathing op-ed this past weekend in the Toronto Star. He said:

With determination, we can overcome all manner of adversity, and reclaim who we are both as individuals and as a people. We face this challenge now with Ottawa, with a government that is taking our country in the wrong direction, undermining the values that make us who we are. I am loath to have to admit to my children that the irreversible degradation of their planet continued on my watch.

Those are strong words.

As a member of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, I am disappointed that I will not have the ability to meet with stakeholders, experts and others to discuss these fundamental changes to the Fisheries Act. If we are unable to study this bill at the committee, it begs the question as to the purpose of this committee.

As the deputy fisheries and oceans critic for the west coast, I see a continuing trend of contempt and neglect that the Conservative government has for coastal communities and nature in Canada. Whether it is pursuing its pipeline agenda on the west coast or corporatizing the fishery on the east coast, it has become clear the government has turned its back on the marine ecosystem and coastal communities in favour of their big-oil-at-all-costs agenda.

I really hope that all members of the House will support this motion.