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Oceans Act—Canada Petroleum Resources Act

Bill to Amend--Third Reading--Debate Adjourned

April 11, 2019


[15:20]

Moved third reading of Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, as amended.

She said: Honourable senators, I am pleased to stand here today to speak at third reading of Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act.

First, I want to applaud the serious and thorough work of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Their study was comprehensive. They heard from multiple perspectives from coast to coast to coast. The passion for the areas, ocean beds, aquatic species, peoples of the areas, and the present and the future were all central to our discussions.

The chair, Senator Manning, managed the discussions with expertise. Everyone had their say, and were given time to pose questions and delve deep. The respect for various view points was palpable in the most positive sense. It was an honour to sponsor this bill and work with this committee.

Senator Manning and committee members, I thank you. Congratulations on the heartfelt deliberations.

At the outset, I also want to thank senators’ staff. They worked hard in seeking out additional information throughout second reading and committee study. Their work added to the substance of the discussions, and as sponsor, I thank them all.

The department staff is also owed real thanks. They were there throughout, answering myriad questions — ones they wanted and perhaps those they did not want — ones they expected and those from left field.

Now I will speak to the bill itself. Let me remind you of its intent and what it was never meant to cover. The goal is marine protection, environmental and sea life, rare and endangered species, and endangered areas. It is not a land bill. It is not an overall oceans bill, which is Bill C-68, now under study by the Fisheries Committee.

This bill, Bill C-55, would simply provide an additional tool to use to protect the oceans that surround this country from coast to coast to coast, north, east and west. Canada’s oceans are part of who we are. They have sustained the people who have inhabited this place throughout histories, pre- and post-contact. As the beneficiaries of this ongoing multi-century sustenance, we have a duty to provide the stewardship for which our oceans are now in dire need. It is this relationship — past, present and future — that led me to take on the sponsorship of this bill.

As one who has lived on one ocean and visited the other two many times, and whose father-in-law spent his whole working life on the Pacific Ocean, I felt a real need to speak to this particular piece of legislation. We live in a time of urgency when it comes to our oceans and the greater environment around us. We need to act now, because at the end of the day, it is the health of our oceans that ensures the health and prosperity of the people and communities that depend upon them.

Indeed, I find myself in a unique place at this moment. Here I am, an independent senator, sponsoring a bill of the Liberal government, based on and honouring a Conservative government’s international agreement. Is anything more independent or comprehensive than that?

This bill, which was sent to us in June 2017 from the other place, as you know, recently completed committee stage with what I would characterize as an energetic, robust and honest debate. With the guidance of the chair — as I have said, Senator Manning — we spent a total of eight meetings on this bill. Three of those meetings were spent on clause by clause, where we discussed a total of seven amendments. This is on par with a number of committee meetings where this bill was under study in the house, which saw witnesses over a period that spanned nine meetings.

In total, witnesses from every coast and in between have spoken to the merits of this bill, a bill that seeks to provide a mechanism for interim protection for Marine Protected Areas, MPAs; to ensure we can protect and conserve areas of ecological significance until a final determination is agreed to among the various levels of government, communities and Indigenous peoples at the table.

Consultation is at the cornerstone of the establishment of a Marine Protected Area. It is clear that consultation remains the foundation of all decisions regarding proposed protection, including the process of providing interim protection under this bill, which allows time for research and solid ultimate decisions based on that consultation.

Again, as I said when I spoke to this bill in May, the establishment of a Marine Protected Area currently takes an average of seven to 10 years. In that period of determining the protected area, there is no mechanism currently in place or available in the Oceans Act to ensure we can begin to protect the potential areas of interest right from the start of the process.

This bill, based on the precautionary approach, will allow for interim protection areas that we know have ecological and biological significance, while further scientific research and Indigenous knowledge can be determined.

Bill C-55 will allow the minister to make an order to freeze the footprint of activities occurring in an area or cancel an interim designation. The interim order would be made following initial consultations and science after a period of approximately one and a half to two years. This means the total time for a final designation following the initial consultations would be six and a half to seven years, five of which are post the initial protection period.

Again, we know that the current average time to establish an MPA is five to seven years. As you can see, with this bill, there will be no shortcuts.

What is different, however, will be government’s ability to ensure that, in the years leading up to the possible final designation, the area of interest receives a base level of protection. I would suggest to senators in this chamber that this is a common-sense piece of legislation when it comes to the stewardship of our marine environment.

Marine Protected Areas have helped us ensure that countless ecologically significant areas have received protection. These areas contribute immensely to support a network of marine biodiversity and the overall health of our oceans, so that many of us enjoy it for its splendour and, for many coastal communities, their livelihood.

Today, MPAs are protecting ecological systems in peril. These are areas that are important fish-breeding grounds that ensure our fisheries remain sustainable. There is no question that we need to do more to protect our marine environments if we are to provide critically important support for future fish stocks and the livelihood for future generations.

The protection of more areas is important and one agreed to by nations globally.

The Hecate Strait MPA, for instance, on the West Coast of British Columbia and the Douglas Channel in Queen Charlotte Sound is one such area. The Hecate Strait MPA conserves glass sponge reefs that cover a total area of 2,410 square kilometres. Made of silica, these sponges are fragile and live up to 200 years — more ancient, I may say, than all of us. The reefs are important, as not only do they filter the water, they provide refuge, habitat and nursery grounds for aquatic species, including commercially important rockfish, other finfish and shellfish species.

Could you imagine that for years while we sought to designate the area as an MPA, knowing how fragile these reefs were and are, but we could do nothing to protect them in the interim? To me, that seems to be a solvable problem. The answer lies in Bill C-55. I know many senators in this chamber share this sentiment with me.

There is no doubt that climate change is the biggest problem we are facing today. Measures to protect the environment and marine stewardship initiatives should have already been undertaken. As we learned in Canada’s Changing Climate Report, which was published last week, Canada’s temperature is rising.

Indeed, the temperature in the North has increased by 3.9 degrees, or three times the global average, which is 1.2 degrees. This temperature increase will cause sea levels to rise and increase the acidity and water temperature of the Arctic Ocean and all of Canada’s oceans. The report predicts a dangerous acceleration of certain extreme weather events over a period of less than 100 years. Accordingly, the time we have to react to the situation corresponds to the lifetime of our grandchildren. We simply cannot wait another 15 years before we do something to protect our marine ecosystems, because our world is changing much faster than that — which was also predicted — and ecosystems need better protections much sooner. The cart is now before the horse. We need mechanisms like the interim protections set out in Bill C-55 to help make up for lost time.

I want to reiterate once again that making up for lost time does not mean cutting corners. We still need to conduct extensive consultations, which we will do, and the proposed legislation does not in any way change that process.

I would also say that this bill may be one of the very few that we see coming from the House of Commons that is based on a shared commitment by all parties. As many of you know, this bill will help the government meet its international marine conservation target of protecting 10 per cent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2020.

I would like to remind senators today that this commitment to fulfilling international targets for marine protection was actually first made by the previous Conservative government in 2010, and today, nine years later, we in this chamber are ensuring that we follow through with this well-defined commitment. Therefore, this bill, like our oceans that know no boundaries, transcends partisan lines. Let us work together to continue the promise of the previous government. We knew that we needed to protect the ocean then, and we know that even more today.

I now want to move on to the amendments made by the Senate Fisheries Committee. I think these amendments are redundant and change the purpose of the legislation.

It is clear from the comments of Senators McInnis and Patterson, the sponsors of the proposed amendments, that the amendments were made out of concern for their community. I commend them for doing that. Part of our work as senators is to represent our regions, and I know that that sentiment was at the heart of what motivated the senators to propose these amendments.

First, let me speak to Senator McInnis’ amendment. It articulates that before an interim order is made, the approximate geographical location of the proposed area for interim protection and an assessment of what would be protected is to be made available. This is common sense. Government should be making that information available. If an interim protection order is made, knowing the general area is necessary in order to make the designation. That process and those definitions already exist.

In my view, and with all due respect, I believe Senator McInnis’ amendment is, in short, redundant, as it seeks to make a change when the requirement is already in place.

Let me give you an example of the current gazetting requirement an interim protection order must adhere to.

If one goes online right now, one could look at any previously proposed order for a Marine Protected Area. I will use as an example the Banc-des-Américains Marine Protected Area proposed regulations published in Canada Gazette, Part I, on June 30, 2018.

The posting includes background information regarding the ecological significance of the area and its species, as well as an analysis of the impact of types of activities on the area, such as fishing, marine transportation, and tourism. In addition, there is a map of the proposed area — and many of you know I adore maps — where the geographical location of the MPA is clearly identified, along with an analysis of benefits and costs of the proposed regulations and a description of the consultations.

We can see from the consultations that the process of selecting Banc-des-Américains for potential designation dates back to 2009. It was only after two years, in 2011, that the area of interest was officially announced. Again, I note that the proposed regulations for the final MPA were published in 2018.

In the two years before the area of interest was announced, there were extensive consultations regarding the boundary of the proposed protected area.

For those of you here who are not familiar with the gazette process, regulations are published in Canada Gazette Part I for an initial period of 30 days to allow for comments and suggestions from the public. This means that in the interim protection process, the order would need to be published in the Gazette for a minimum of 30 days. The published order would necessarily include the geographical location of the proposed area.

After the 30 days, the comments are assessed and a final set of regulations published in Canada Gazette, Part II. Once they are published in Canada Gazette, Part II, then the order is final and the area officially receives interim protection under the Oceans Act.

I also want to emphasize that this process is in addition to the cabinet directive of regulations that must be adhered to, and departments and agencies must ensure that the process is open and transparent when it comes to determining an area for interim protection. This cabinet directive is derived from the statutory authority under section 7(1) of the Financial Administration Act.

We can also see this directive, open and transparent, in action as to how current MPAs are determined. For instance, you can also go online today to see areas of interest for the proposed MPAs such as the Eastern Shore MPA. I want to be clear that this area in question has not yet been established. That is because the process typically takes anywhere from seven to ten years. Online, you will again find an actual map of the geographical location of the proposed Eastern Shore Islands Area of Interest and a description of the location:

The site stretches from Clam Bay near Jeddore Harbour to Barren Island near Liscomb Point and extends approximately 25 km from mainland in the Scotian Shelf bioregion.

It lists the approximate size as 2,000 square kilometres. There is also a list of ecological features in the area, including important habitat for Atlantic salmon; complex mosaic at the bottom habitat; spawning area for Atlantic herring; juvenile/nursery area for Atlantic cod, white hake, and pollock; important foraging area for various birds, including Harlequin duck — which is of special concern — Roseate tern — which is endangered — and shorebirds such as the purple sandpiper.

As well, the key objectives of the approach are listed, as well as a list of the consultations that took place. All of this information is available now regarding an area of interest. It is available because this information is required under the cabinet directive on regulations.

Honourable senators, I have given you examples of how the amendment proposed by Senator McInnis is redundant and unnecessary. I also want to say I agree that consultation and knowing the area in question is critically important. I therefore agree with Senator McInnis’ goals regarding openness and transparency for the communities.

Though I will agree with sending the amended bill back to the House of Commons, I do not think this amendment is necessary; it is already covered.