Important Legislation to Protect Canada’s Oceans & Coasts Receives Royal Assent

From: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

May 27, 2019

Ottawa, ON – Canada is an ocean nation. With the world’s longest coastline and surrounded by three oceans, our marine ecosystems are home to an abundance of marine life and support over 350,000 Canadian jobs. However, our government recognizes that our oceans face urgent threats, from warming waters due to climate change, to a decline in marine biodiversity, which have a direct impact on the health of our environment and economy. Recognizing the need to take action, the Government of Canada committed to protect 10% of our oceans by 2020. We have expanded the scope of protected ocean space from less than 1 percent in 2015 to 8.27 today.

Today, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, announced that the Governor General has granted Royal Assent to changes to the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act (Bill C-55). These changes directly empower the federal Government to strengthen the protection of at-risk marine ecosystems by stopping new potentially detrimental activities from taking place in those areas through ‘interim protections’ until the permanent designation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) is made.

This proactive freeze on new activity can be applied for up to five years in areas where there is an urgent need to provide environmental protection. This measure will allow additional science and consultations to take place together with provinces, territories, Indigenous communities, stakeholders, and the public. This engagement will inform and finalize plans for longer-term protection through MPAs. MPAs protect marine habitats and provide a safe home for species such as endangered whales, turtles and seabirds, and help maintain sustainable fish stocks. The creation of MPAs in a faster and more comprehensive manner is a core component of this legislation. It is also a key part of our government’s commitment to growing our economy in a sustainable way, through ensuring that we are protecting our environment.

Our government understands the critical need to protect our oceans and coastlines from environmental degradation today. This legislation gives federal maritime enforcement agencies the ‘teeth’ to enforce protections. These changes to the Oceans Act modernize and enhance the ability to enforce the protection of these important areas. This brings the Act in line with Canada’s other environmental legislation, putting the protection of our ocean space and coastlines on par with on-land protections.

To complement the proposed amendments to the Oceans Act, Parliament has also adopted amendments to the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. They allow Natural Resources Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to negotiate the voluntary surrender of a company’s oil and gas interests. They also allow for compensation in areas where an Oceans Act MPA is designated, should the interests require cancellation.

The new Oceans Act gives the federal Government the right tools to conserve and protect Canada’s unique coastal and marine areas.

“I am very pleased that Parliament has adopted Bill C-55, which will strengthen the protection of our oceans. This means that as Canadians, and as a government, we recognize that we can no longer afford to wait until biodiversity is lost before we take action. The ability to apply interim protection in a sensitive marine area will better protect the areas that need it most, with the consideration of sound science and in collaboration with our partners. This improved Oceans Act is better suited to our modern times.”

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Quick facts

  • The Government of Canada announced its intention to propose amendments to the Oceans Act in 2016 on World Oceans Day (June 8). The bill spent two years under Parliamentary review with both the House of Commons and the Senate hearing from a broad range of Canadians.

  • The Government of Canada engaged with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous groups, industry stakeholders, environmental non-government organizations, and Canadians to discuss planned amendments to the Oceans Act.

  • The Canada Petroleum Resources Act provides the Ministers of Natural Resources and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs with the authority to regulate Canada’s offshore oil and gas activities in the Pacific Ocean, Hudson Bay, and areas of the Atlantic Ocean that are not governed by federal-provincial Accord Acts, as well as the Arctic Offshore.

  • To date, Canada has conserved 8.27% of its marine and coastal areas, up from less than one percent in 2016.

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