Mr. Skelly (North Island-Powell River):
Mr. Speaker, one of the major problems is that the Conservatives do not in fact see the relevancy. There are thousands and thousands of people who view themselves in that industry as entrepreneurs dependent on the actions of government and the chartered banks which in combination have caused them harm over the years. If they listen they will begin to understand the correlation between the two items today. I thank the hon. member for presenting his point of view.
February 26, 1993
To continue the key point, people were able to pyramid these limited licences from gill-netters and trailers and create seiners. By pyramiding they created tremendous increases in overcapacity, further increases in overcapacity. The capacity to catch fish increased well beyond what the resource could ever tolerate.
The department responded correctly with its only weapon and reduced the fishing opportunity. The reduction in fishing opportunity set off a whole new range of capital expenditures. It forced these entrepreneurs, these small fishermen or fishers, to head to the banks under what the government had created, the fisheries improvement loan.
We should notice the small business protection procedures that are in place. In the beginning it was well-intentioned. It was to provide a source of guaranteed funds that the government would guarantee to the banks, if the fishers did not deliver on their payment program and they were able to increase the overcapitalization of those vessels.
In response, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans again reduced the fishing opportunity time. There was more and more limited time to fish in the face of the most efficient catching machine in the world in any industry, this enormous efficient capacity encouraged and fuelled by the management program, encouraged and fuelled by the licence limitation program, encouraged by the banks and a government that provided guaranteed loans.
All of a sudden it crashed. The resource in down-cycled years was not there. The fishing opportunity became even tighter. At the same time interest rates began to rise dramatically. People could not catch enough fish to make the payments on their boats. Then the cycle began of the banks seizing their vessels and people being driven out of the industry with a vengeance. There are all kinds of cases where the banks simply said: "We want to get rid of this loan. We do not care. It does not matter. We are worried about other aspects of the economy. We are going to yank your fish-boat anyway and put you out of business in order to get it off our books".
To give some credit to the Liberal government there was a policy that once the guaranteed loan had been dealt with, with the banks, that was it. They were not interested in taking their homes. They were not going after people who had co-signed the loans. They said:
"Enough is enough. We have driven you out of the industry and that is it".
At one point there was a suggestion of putting a couple of hundred million dollars into a buy-back program to relieve these entrepreneurs, these fishermen; to get the capacity out of the industry so it simply did not move away from the bankrupt individual into the hands of another fisher who could be a dentist in Tbronto, the way the government set it up; and simply to keep the capacity in the industry. They thought they would just let it bankrupt its way out. They did not go after the homes or the family members who co-signed.
Then we come to the 1980s. The Liberal government decides it has a fiasco and it hires Peter Pearse who says that the way to deal with it is to turn around and manage the fishing industry like they did the forest industry in British Columbia, to turn the whole thing over to 10 big companies, to increase the ability of a small number of people to catch fish and when they deliver the fish to charge a royalty, to get rid of people within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who are no longer needed to police a small fleet, and to make the fishers pay for the landing and the landing inspection facilities. There is no need for enforcement.
Then we have the situation where these business people have been absolutely shafted by the banks and by the downturn in the economy, the increase in interest rates, the increase in fuel prices, and have been driven out. Along comes Pearse and says: "Let's drive them out even further". So we get a situation in which Pearse wants to model the fishing industry the same way as the B.C. forest industry so that there are a small number of extremely large fishing operators and the marginal ones are gotten rid of.
At that point in time that comes along. In come the Conservatives in 1984 and they say: "Oh, oh. We see quite a big pile of money that we would like to go back and recoup". They reversed the policy. The policy now was to go after those people who they guaranteed loans to the banks for. They hired a chartered accountant firm to go back and figure out how much money there was and how to put this in place. They then told the chartered banks: "You signed a clause in these agreements years ago to go back and shaft these people. We want you to go after the co-signers. We want you to go after their homes, their cars, and their assets, and clean them out even further".
February 26, 1993
That is exactly what they have done. They have revisited these people who have gone through a horrible period of time. They had rebuilt their lives after this catastrophic event which was a combination of government policy, banking, and a misguided approach to things.
All of a sudden these people are visited again, and it is going on today. They are yanking away homes and forcing extreme payments out of people. It has to change. There is a group called the Fishing Redress Committee headed by an individual named Jack Larson on the coast of British Columbia who lost his vessel and virtually lost everything. He is representative of a large number of people to whom this government owes the removal of this harassment a decade later. It went back after assets that they had because of an obscure clause in this thing. It is really a vengeance that has been visited on these people and it should be removed.
The second issue is the whole question of the advisability of the Pearse program. It is continuing. Its objective is to create a small group of bigger and bigger businesses in the fishing industry. It is driving small businesses out. We have a situation in which the government from day one-when the Speaker was the minister of fisheries I remember him campaigning in the riding I represent and saying: "We don't accept Pearse's program. This is the wrong way to go".
Yet this government for nine years has followed it as if it were the Bible. It has wreaked tremendous hardship against people in the fishing industry and the coastal communities of British Columbia. This is a small business sector of entrepreneurs who have been shafted by the banks and this government's policy, and it is continuing.
We now find that the government has involved itself in another policy, the aboriginal fishing strategy. It is interesting. Small business people are involved in this. I know the member has sat in front of a three-day committee and listened to their concerns but there is no response to the concerns.
The minister stood up and said: "Well, what is the NDP point of view on this particular sector that involves fishers?" It is that the Supreme Court has laid down the aboriginal right to fish. You can fish by chaos or you can fish by an agreement. We support an agreement for these individuals in the aboriginal community and the agreement with-
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: SMALL BUSINESSES LOANS ACT