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Oceans Act—Canada Petroleum Resources Act

Bill to Amend--Message from Commons--Motion for Concurrence in Commons Amendment--Debate Adjourned

May 15, 2019


Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate)
[14:54]

Moved:

That the Senate agree to the amendment the House of Commons made to Senate amendment 1 to Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act; and

That a message be sent to the House of Commons to acquaint that house accordingly.

He said: Honourable colleagues, I rise today to speak to the message received from the other place concerning the Senate amendments made to Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act.

Before I begin, I would like to thank the members of the Fisheries Committee, who did great work on the bill, and to all other senators who participated in the debate in this chamber. A special thanks goes to Senator Bovey, who has done a phenomenal job as the sponsor of this bill. It is due to her dedication to protecting and conserving our oceans that we are where we are at and hope to be in the final decision with respect to this bill.

The message before us today declines the two amendments made by the Senate Fisheries Committee. However, the other place has accepted the intent of one of the amendments by proposing a new amendment that covers the changes sought by Senator McInnis. This proposed amendment ensures the government is undertaking the consultations already provided for in the Oceans Act by requiring that they be published upon an order being made for interim protection. Furthermore, this amendment would require that the geographic location for the area under consideration for interim protection and other relevant information is also published when an order is made.

Indeed, you will recall that, at third reading, senators debated whether the amendments made at the Fisheries Committee might have been redundant. However, I think we all agree that the amendments were made with good intent and the interests of Canadians in mind. During the committee review of the bill, we heard from departmental officials that the policy of intentions of the amendments by Senator McInnis and Senator Patterson are already required under the existing cabinet directives and legislation. In short, all the legal mechanisms are in place to achieve the intent of the amendments.

Senator McInnis’s amendment would have required that the approximate geographic location of an area proposed for interim protection and a preliminary assessment of any habitat or species in need of protection be published. However, this information is already required under the cabinet directive on regulations that requires processes to be open and transparent.

Senator Bovey gave a good, practical example of this fact in her speech at third reading. She said that you can go online right now to look at any area of interest and see that, while there are not yet official Marine Protected Areas, all pertinent information is available.

At committee, Senator McInnis made a comment referenced by Senator Christmas at third reading when he said:

Hearsay and unfounded statements can and do create turmoil among stakeholders . . . . We cannot continue to create a veil of uncertainty as to what the MPA or the interim MPA will hold for the communities in these areas . . . . Rumours of geographic areas to be covered are a problem.

I would like to add that these sorts of statements on the requisite availability of information also contribute to creating turmoil and mistrust in the public. Information on areas of interest already exist, so why is it that we are questioning the existence of information in this chamber?

I reiterate today that information regarding proposed MPAs is available. Information on the geographic location of areas of interest is currently available online.

With regard to Senator Patterson’s amendment, we heard repeatedly that its intent is covered by sections 29 to 33 of the existing Oceans Act, which outlines explicitly the consultative requirements for all action taken regarding establishing Marine Protected Areas and interim protection. The amendment is further covered by the cabinet directive on regulations that requires the government to be open and transparent.

In his speech at third reading, Senator Patterson indicated that the order for interim protection would not go through the Gazette process. That is inaccurate. All proposed regulations are required to go through the Gazette process, as prescribed by the Statutory Instruments Act, in order for interim protection to have regulatory measures regarding the activities that are permitted under the freezing-the-footprint concept. Such an order would also have other regulatory measures regarding the geographic area and conservation objectives. As a result, an interim order is required to be gazetted.

The message from the other place goes further than just saying there are duplications with the amendments. The message underscores Bill C-55’s purpose, which is to provide faster protection for marine areas.

Of course, we must remember that our oceans are in serious decline. The environmental catastrophe unfolding in the world poses an urgent and accelerating threat to many of Canada’s regional economies and cultures, as well as to the marine species we have an obligation to protect.

Of importance, I also want to touch on the subject of consultations. A lot has been said about the need to have comprehensive consultation that respects the rights of Indigenous partners. Let me be clear: Meaningful consultations should always be the standard and senators are right to emphasize this principle. However, with respect to Bill C-55, I believe the letter from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association regarding consultations says it best:

For QIA, this is not a theoretical issue. For the last three years, we have been working collaboratively, hand-in-glove, with the federal government to negotiate the final terms defining the creation of marine conservation areas. We are also engaged in examining protection for an area known to Inuit as Tuvaijutuuq.

Further to this, a memorandum of understanding has been signed by the Government of Canada, QIA and the Government of Nunavut on a collaborative way forward on the creation of an MPA in Tuvaijutuuq, also known as the High Arctic Basin.

I believe this is a great example of the partnership that is truly and increasingly happening on the ground when it comes to protecting our marine and coastal areas and working collaboratively with Indigenous partners to protect our oceans.

Personally, I have heard this from the leadership of the Coastal First Nations of the Pacific Northwest in relation to another matter before this chamber.

We also know that the High Arctic Basin was part of Budget 2019 and funds have been allocated for its possible designation. I say possible because, even if an agreement under the MOU was finalized tomorrow, it cannot be designated by the end of this year, or likely even the next, under the current Oceans Act.

However, with the passage of this message before us and Bill C-55, we can move this process along faster to ensure that the area gets the interim protection its needs as consultations continue to take place to inform a determination within five years.

I would also add that the initial proposal by the QIA outlines investments of $260 million over seven years for marine and community infrastructure, stewardship initiatives, community development and governance for a designated High Arctic Basin.

Honourable senators, the world’s oceans and their temperature, chemistry, currents and life drive global systems that make the earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food and even the oxygen in the air we breathe are ultimately provided and sustained by the sea.

Careful management of this delicate global habitat is a key feature of a sustainable future. However, time is of the essence, and with the mass extinction currently underway, we need move quickly.

I hope we can all concur with the message to ensure that our marine and coastal areas, such as the High Arctic Basin, have the protection they need and deserve. Thank you.

[15:03]

Senators, I rise today to speak to the message received from the other place regarding the Senate’s proposed amendments to Bill C-55, an Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Petroleum Resources Act.

If I may, I would like to send my hopes and best wishes to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade for a full and speedy recovery and return to good health. Our thoughts are with you.

I would also like to thank the current Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and his staff for their support throughout.

You all know that I felt the two amendments we sent to the other place were redundant, but I did support the amended bill. That said, as sponsor of the bill I am pleased to see the government has made this overture to senators and has taken into consideration the concerns expressed in this chamber regarding Bill C-55. The message we are considering today will provide more transparency to proposed process of designating an interim marine protected area contained in Bill C-55.

Under the proposal we have before us, the minister shall publish a report that includes the geographic area, a summary of consultations that took place prior to making an order and a summary of information the minister took into consideration when making the order. I agree with Senator Harder that this meets the intent of the amendment proposed by Senator McInnis in that it ensures the government is undertaking the consultations already provided for in the Oceans Act by requiring they be published upon an order being made for interim protection and that the geographical area is also published when an order is made.

I would like to reiterate my concern with the amendment proposed by Senator Patterson, which was not accepted vis-à-vis the legal analysis posted by Professor Bankes at the University of Calgary:

. . . since the amendment is only proposed to apply to the creation of MPAs by ministerial order and not to the process of creating an MPA by order-in-council and regulation, it will arguably be more difficult to use the ministerial order process than the MPA by regulation process.

I do not believe we are in a position to be slowing down the work of protecting our oceans. I also understand the expectations of those who have negotiated our agreements, such as the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, who are awaiting passage of Bill C-55 in order to move the process along with an interim protection order, which will lead to a determination within five years.

Colleagues, this bill is intended to provide an option for interim marine protection in areas that are deemed ecologically sensitive. Bill C-55 would allow the minister to freeze the footprint of ongoing activities after initial consultations. This freeze would be in place for five years, during which time further consultations and scientific research would be conducted. The minister, at the end of this five-year period, would either move ahead to establish the area as a permanent MPA based on these consultations and science, or repeal the interim order.

The current regime has proven to take 7 to 10 years to complete, which is far too long when an ecologically sensitive area is at stake. Furthermore, there could be no interim protection given to these areas during the process to establish an MPA. Bill C-55 establishes a more timely process and interim protection measures while preserving the consultation and scientific processes on which MPAs are based.

A 2012 report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development found that:

During the 20 years since Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, 10 federal MPAs have been established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada as part of their marine protected area programs. Federal, provincial and territorial governments and non-governmental organizations are collectively protecting about 1 per cent of Canada’s oceans and Great Lakes through MPAs. At the current rate of progress, it will take many decades for Canada to establish a fully functioning MPA network and achieve the target established in 2010 under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to conserve 10 per cent of marine areas.

Furthermore, the commissioner documented that it took Parks Canada more than 20 years to establish Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site, and more than 10 years for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to establish the Tarium Niryutait MPA. I don’t believe this to be an acceptable time frame in the context of the challenges facing our oceans today.

Coincidentally, last week the United Nations released its Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The report examines the changes that have occurred to the planet over the last five decades. With the contributions of some 450 experts from 50 countries, the report paints a very bleak outlook for the future if we do not address the issues facing us now.

According to the authors:

The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.

Among its findings regarding the world’s oceans, the report indicates that one third of marine mammals are threatened; 66 per cent of the marine environment has been altered by human activity; 33 per cent of marine fish stocks are being harvested at unsustainable levels and plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1992.

Senators, we need to move forward in a more timely fashion while still employing a responsible and transparent means of protecting our ecologically sensitive marine areas. The bill we have before us provides a solution to the problem identified seven years ago.

It is for that reason I urge senators to concur with this message so that we can move ahead with the work of protecting our oceans, which need our stewardship now more than ever. Thank you.