Hon. Jane Cordy:
Minister, I would like to echo the comments made earlier. It’s great to have you back on the Hill. I certainly wish you good health. Welcome to the Senate, again.
I want to acknowledge, minister, the recently introduced bill in the other place to amend the Fisheries Act. I am certain that our former colleague, Senator Moore, read the amendments with great delight and that he will be very pleased that it will now be illegal to capture whales, dolphins and porpoises in Canadian waters and keep them in captivity.
I want to ask you about owner-operator licences as they relate to the in-shore fishery in Atlantic Canada. As I understand it, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has existing policies in place that require licence-holders in the in-shore fishery to actually operate the licence they are issued, so they will be obligated to be present on the fishing vessel. The thinking there being that the social and economic benefits of the in-shore fishery are to remain in the community where the licence has been issued.
Given that the policies already exist, why did you feel, minister, that it was necessary to bring forward the legislative authority to entrench these policies into law?
Hon. Dominic LeBlanc, P.C., M.P., Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard: Thank you, Senator Cordy, for your question. With respect the owner-operator fleet separation policies, you’re right: They have been a cornerstone of the successful economic independence of in-shore and mid-shore fish harvesters in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. These policies have existed for probably 40 years.
Our view is that, at various times, various governments of all political stripes haven’t been as rigorous in applying and enforcing these policies as consistently as perhaps they could have been. There are a series of reasons why different corporate interests or different fish harvesters themselves at various times probably found themselves in what are commonly known as controlling agreements or trust agreements. That would say that the directing mind of the fishing enterprise is not the individual woman or man who is the licence-holder but that it’s indirectly driven by a fish-processing company or some other corporate interest.
I represent a series of small coastal communities with hundreds of in-shore lobster and snow crab fishers. There is no doubt that if you allowed one or two companies to own all of those licences, over time, the economic impact in those communities that depend on those harvesters would be significantly eroded.
We thought there was an opportunity to say that clearly in the legislation — and we look forward to the views of parliamentarians on this — that the minister can take into account social, economic and cultural factors when making decisions around licensing and allocations. It’s existed since the Fisheries Act was first passed one year after Confederation — the first Fisheries Act was passed in 1868. Those factors have always motivated ministers of all political parties who have had the chance to hold the job I have. We thought we should be clear in saying that is a purpose of the legislation, and that the Governor-in-Council can make regulations following that purpose in the legislation to strengthen the application and the enforcement of these principles.
Senator Cordy, this has been something that representatives of the 72,000 people who earn their living directly or indirectly from fish harvesting have asked governments to do for many years. When I spoke in the other place earlier this morning on the Fisheries Act, many of the elected representatives of these harvesters were sitting in the gallery.
I think this measure is something that is long overdue. We can tell the women and men who depend economically on these resources that we’re taking steps to strengthen their independence and to ensure that their sons and daughters will also be able to benefit from those public resources the way that perhaps they, their parents and grandparents have as well.