Honourable senators, I rise today to speak at third reading of Bill C-68, An Act to Amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence.
Over seven months ago, I rose in this chamber and encouraged all honourable senators to join in the dialogue needed to make Canada’s fisheries sector as vibrant and sustainable as it can be through the study of Bill C-68’s proposed provisions.
During that period, colleagues, your Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, on which I’m privileged to sit, undertook rigorous deliberation of this bill. The committee received 37 briefs, undertook 8 witness meetings and 2 meetings of clause-by-clause analysis while considering the positions and testimony from 55 witnesses, representing 29 organizations, composed of representation from Indigenous peoples, industry, government, the conservation community and individuals.
In all, 50 amendments were moved, 35 of them were adopted. When I first spoke to the bill all these months ago now, I was asked by an honourable senator whether the government and I were open to amendments in committee on this bill. I commented then that I believed we were, based on my own point of view and assurances I had sought and received from Minister Wilkinson.
I believe that a number of amendments adopted gives testament that this legislation is indeed improved by such undertakings. Speaking of Minister Wilkinson, I must commend him for his stewardship of this bill and for his open mind in respect of consideration of means by which we improved its provisions.
The minister spoke to the committee in early April, and I’m eager to share his thoughts with you, honourable colleagues. Before I do, I must confess that my sponsorship of this bill has reminded me of an important truth. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “When the well is dry, we’ll know the worth of water.”
Consider this in respect of the thoughts of Minister Wilkinson, who stated:
As Canada’s population continues to grow, as does its economy, marine fisheries, freshwater and fish habitat need to be protected and conserved for future generations. This bill encourages the adoption of best practices to mitigate and manage negative impacts, which is fundamental to sustainable economic growth.
Colleagues, I feel humbled to be this bill’s advocate. I take this role to heart, taught as I am by Indigenous Mi’kmaq knowledge about how we are, all of us, connected to creation in ways many of us may not yet fully comprehend. Let us acknowledge that the Fisheries Act was Canada’s first environmental legislation. Let us affirm that its current provisions, improved hopefully via this bill’s adoption, reflect a keen desire to be faithful stewards of responsibilities to the sea and the creatures that live in it.
I raise this matter as I often fear we are becoming somewhat consumed by the economics of society at the expense of its state of overall health and sustainability. It’s as if we have purposely chosen commerce over care, a pursuit of energy over protection and sustaining the environment.
Honourable colleagues, I want to remind you that I am here to be an independent voice for Nova Scotia and, in particular, the Mi’kmaq nation. I have no political affiliation, but I must agree with Minister Wilkinson’s contention that it’s our collective responsibility to exercise our stewardship of Canada’s fisheries and the habitat on which they rely with care in a way that is practical, reasonable and sustainable.
As the minister affirmed, and as we have heard from many of our witnesses, the measures in Bill C-68 restore protections for fish and fish habitat while also ensuring modern mechanisms are in place to guide sustainable economic growth, job creation and resource development.
In short, Bill C-68’s measures are not only about protection but also prosperity for an industry and a way of life for those whose living is dependent upon the sea.
One key measure to both prosperity and protection is fish stock rebuilding and the plans around it. I know there continues to be some questions over the need for higher standards for the protection of our fish. Some have asked why this bill is reverting to the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction to fish when, as they claim, we have yet to see any major evidence of collapse in stocks.
Colleagues, only a few weeks ago, the United Nations released a report on the state of nature and biodiversity. This sobering report states that 1 million species are at risk of extinction, despite there being solutions. Due to human pressures, such as deforestation, overfishing and development, nature is in trouble and biodiversity is on the brink of collapse. Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries, the report states that one in four species is at risk of extinction and marine pollution has increased tenfold since 1980.
If this report tells us anything, it is that we must act now to protect and conserve our fish and fish habitat. We can’t keep waiting for our stocks to collapse to take action. We know the health of our stocks supports not just the ecosystems in which they are found but also the communities that depend on them for their livelihoods. At committee, we heard testimony from a cooperative group of over 20 non-governmental organizations supportive of Bill C-68’s provisions around stock rebuilding.
They noted that:
Canada has the world’s largest coastline, three ocean basins and a poor history of rebuilding depleted stocks. Passage of Bill C-68 and establishing strong regulations for rebuilding provides an opportunity to create a future for fisheries in Canada that heeds the lessons from the past to ensure healthy fish populations and sustainable fishing economies for generations to come.
I’m conscious of the last phrase in that sentence “for generations to come.” We in Atlantic Canada know that the fishery has been the lifeblood for Maritimers for generation upon generation. As Senator Stewart Olsen suggested last week in this chamber, Maritimers have been clear: They firmly believe Bill C-68 will protect a foundational principle that has always defined our fishery. That principle is that of fleet separation and ensuring fishermen remain owner-operators.
Chelsey Ellis is a young third generation fisherwoman from a small fishing village in Prince Edward Island. She spent her early years on the water, fishing lobster and scallops for her family. She had been working in coastal communities in British Columbia for the past seven years as a seafood traceability coordinator, a fisheries biologist, electronic monitoring program coordinator and a commercial fishing deckhand.
She has worked in 11 different fisheries on two coasts of Canada and is a member of the B.C. Young Fishermen’s Network. She offered her unique perspective to the committee around the preservation and promotion of the independence of licence holders and commercial inshore fisheries. She noted:
Commercial fishing is the backbone of my community in Prince Edward Island. The provisions in place on the East Coast help to protect and promote independent owner-operators. This provides meaningful and important livelihoods that support people in place. . . . The knowledge required to be a commercial fish harvester is extremely specialized and unique. To extract the full value of this amazing resource, we need to attract those who have the skills and the passion to create a safe, positive and successful work environment.
Ms. Ellis also noted that the promotion of the independence of owner-operator enterprises in all commercial fisheries is critical. She’s eager to see the social, economic and cultural benefits to harvesters, coastal communities and future generations of Canadians who are called to this work maximized. As she so eloquently put it:
For many who work in the industry, commercial fishing isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle and, in many cases, a deep-rooted family tradition. It’s also a platform to challenge yourself and to explore and exceed what you thought were your personal limitations. It’s a meaningful living that connects people to place and creates personal identity.
Honourable colleagues, I’d now like to speak of the provisions of Bill C-68 that are perhaps of greatest interest to me, those related to Indigenous peoples. As I highlighted at second reading, these include: that the minister must consider adverse effects that decisions may have on the rights of Indigenous people in Canada; that the minister establish a multi-interest advisory body to support the carrying out of the purposes of the act, including Indigenous representation; that the minister enter into agreements with Indigenous governing bodies to further the purposes of the Fisheries Act, an opportunity currently only provided to the provinces and territories; that the minister consider the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples of Canada when making certain decisions, specifically those that involve fish and fish habitat; and that when Indigenous knowledge is shared with respect to decisions made under the act, that the information is to be kept confidential and will not be shared with the public or with the media.
I welcome and applaud the measures in this legislation seeking to enhance Indigenous elements in the Fisheries Act. As a Mi’kmaq, as a member of my community of Membertou and as a personal friend of Donald Marshall, Jr., I can tell you the issue of the recognition and respect of Mi’kmaq fishing rights, or lack thereof, leaves me in a quandary. I’ll let the words of Chief Terry Paul explain this. While appearing before our committee, Chief Paul said:
As defined in this bill, the concept of Indigenous fisheries is limited to those who fish for food, social, ceremonial and subsistence purposes only. With this definition . . . Bill C-68 continues to infringe upon our constitutionally protected rights to harvest and sell fish to support a moderate livelihood. We have been waiting nearly 20 years, since the decision in the Marshall case in September of 1999, for the implementation of our right to harvest for a moderate livelihood.
Clause 9 defines an Indigenous fishery as fish:
. . . harvested by an Indigenous organization or any of its members for the purpose of using the fish as food, for social or ceremonial purposes or for purposes set out in a land claims agreement entered into with the Indigenous organization.”
This definition of “Indigenous” fishery does not recognize and protect all fisheries unique to Indigenous people. That severely undermines the reconciliatory purpose of Bill C-68.
Chief Terry continued:
For Mi’kmaq specifically, this means that we will continue to be prohibited by the Fisheries Act from engaging in our rights, as affirmed by the Supreme Court, to fish for a moderate livelihood.
A moderate livelihood fishery is neither a subsistence fishery nor a commercial one. The Mi’kmaq right to fish for a moderate livelihood is based on a series of treaties made in 1760 and 1761, and was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in its 1999 Donald Marshall decision.
Our right to fish for a moderate livelihood is a constitutionally protected treaty right, recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act.
Bill C-68 not only disregards this, but it also leaves both our people and the Crown with serious compromises. . . .
The continued denial of our right to take part in a moderate livelihood fishery has had major implications for our people. Many in our communities still trade or sell what they collect through hunting, fishing and gathering to provide for their families. This fishery is not about wealth. It never has been. It has always been about survival.
In the face of this, I realized that the challenge of bringing about the respecting of and adherence to the Supreme Court of Canada’s Marshall decision may be bigger than its place or mention in the Fisheries Act. But the fact remains that it is my duty and responsibility in respect of all my relations in the Mi’kmaq nation to pursue remedies for this by whatever means I can.
To this end, the committee adopted my amendments, strengthening the non-derogation clause in the bill and improving language in the act around respecting the rights guaranteed, recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution.
My concerns around the right to a moderate livelihood for the Mi’kmaq fishery remain paramount to me, and I’ll take this opportunity to make note of this to the government.
While I’m pleased with improvements to the provisions of this legislation, there remains much work to be done. The committee, after hearing Chief Paul’s testimony, made reference to the great degree of patience the Mi’kmaq have shown throughout this endeavour.
I commend Chief Paul for this as well, and pledge to him and the Mi’kmaq nation that I remain determined to move this matter forward by whatever means I can, always bearing in mind the admonishment of Donald Marshall Jr. to “keep fishing.”
As you can see, there are indeed provisions and components of Bill C-68 that incite passionate debate, and I offer thanks to my honourable colleagues for indulging me as I addressed mine.
If I was to note one other area of concern to stakeholders, industry and environmentalists, it would be that of flow and fish habitat. In short, as we termed it, “puddles in pastures” suddenly being deemed fish habitat and subject to oversight and compliance verification by DFO officials.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the national voice of 60,000 beef farms and feedlots, gave voice to its concerns in this regard:
The proposed Fisheries Act expands substantially on the scope that was already too expansive. It is an extremely small list of water bodies that would not be either fish habitat or deemed fish habitat. This, in turn, means the prohibitions apply almost everywhere and to almost all activities.
The CCA and its producers are not against protecting water bodies. This is not at issue. Water is critical for raising cattle and managing farms and ranches. Furthermore, everyone recognizes the importance of having sufficient water quality and quantity, whether for people, livestock, or fish. What is at issue is how to manage water and water flows. The current Bill C-68 essentially detaches water flows from fish and fish habitat. This will result in the potential for significantly more activities associated with cattle production to be in contravention of the Fisheries Act despite limited impact on actual fish populations. This is particularly true given the expanded scope of fisheries, from commercial, recreational, and Aboriginal fisheries.
The Cattlemen’s Association was not the only voice of this opinion in this regard. Similar entreaties were heard from the Canadian Association of Forest Owners; the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers; the Forum for Leadership on Water; the Canadian Nuclear Association; the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada; the Canadian Electricity Association; the Canadian Canola Growers Association and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, to name but a few.
Thankfully, this matter was dealt with by way of government sponsored amendments.
Similarly, as Senator Harder point out last week, in the face of legitimate industry concerns, the government thankfully introduced amendments to the permitting system for large-scale projects to include exceptions to the Fisheries Act for activities and works that do not lead to the death of fish.
These amendments provide the authority for the minister to make the final determinations about which aspects of a designated project will require a permit, and further clarifies that only those aspects will require a permit that are likely to result in the death of fish or harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.
I can tell you, just as there was in the case of fish habitat and flow, there were equally significant calls for these amendments from stakeholders and industry. The government is to be applauded for its proactive action in this regard.
Finally, it is not often that Senate public bills become subsumed into government legislation, but that is exactly what was achieved by porting key provisions of Bill S-203 and Bill S-238 into the body of Bill C-68. These bills have spent years in this chamber, and their inclusion in Bill C-68 helps ensure, due to tight legislative timelines, that banning both whales in captivity and shark finning is adopted and becomes law. I know that the inclusion of these bills has the support of former Senator Moore, Senator Sinclair and Senator MacDonald. Senators, you have done tremendous work in these pieces of legislation. I applaud you for your commitment to these issues, and I commend your perseverance in seeing them realized.
As I conclude, honourable colleagues, there are many to thank and acknowledge. First, I would like to thank the members of your Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for the depth and rigour of our study on Bill C-68, for their class and collegiality, which makes our work on the committee such a pleasure to undertake, and for the special role our chair, Senator Manning, plays in keeping our committee afloat and in calm waters, as he says.
I would also like to make special mention of Minister Wilkinson and his officials. I really appreciated their cooperation, openness and determination in always finding suitable ways forward when we faced impasse.
Honourable senators, I close today in much the same fashion I did all those months ago at second reading, when I invoked the words of JFK, as he reminded us that “we are tied to the ocean.” I would add that it is not just we who are tied to the ocean but also our children and theirs who will follow after them.
Over a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt reminded us:
. . . to waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land [and water] instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.
Honourable senators, I thank you all for participating in debate on this bill. It is legislation that balances protection with measures to build prosperity. It is a bill that seeks to be a tool of Indigenous reconciliation. It is a bill that seeks to build and maintain healthy fisheries and oceans that my children and grandchildren may enjoy and make use of for generations to come.
Bill C-68 is a vessel worthy of passage. Let’s get this boat in the water and see this legislation adopted without delay. Wela’lioq. Thank you.