Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to discuss with my hon. colleagues an opportunity for each of us to work together to protect our environment from the effects of marine pollution from ships, which all Canadians want us to do.
If the government's proposed amendments to the Marine Liability Act, as outlined in Bill , are passed into law, they would have important environmental and economic impacts for all Canadians.
Together we can better protect Canadians from oil spills and ensure polluters actually pay for what they do. We can protect Canadians aboard passenger vessels, ensure the continued viability of a very important tourism sector and provide fairness for Canadian businesses that supply ships.
The act as it stands now is very ill-equipped to tackle the realities of marine transport today and inadequate to realize our 21st century ambitions.
Before I review our proposed amendments in detail, I would remind all hon. members of how important marine transportation is to Canada and Canadians.
As a trading nation, Canada relies on shipping to provide Canadians with one of the world's highest standards of living. In 2007, for instance, ships carried more than 365 million tonnes of international cargo. This represents some $160 billion worth of international trade and includes more than $81 billion in exports. That $160 billion is a staggering sum to say the least.
Seventy million tonnes of cargo are transported domestically each year by ships operating between Canadian ports on the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic coasts; along the St. Lawrence Seaway; and throughout the Great Lakes system.
Canadian ferries actually carry some 40 million passengers and 16 million automobiles each and every year. They are also part of daily commuting for many Canadians in cities such as Halifax and Vancouver.
Almost 1.5 million people, Canadians and foreign visitors alike, enjoy scenic cruises on Canadian waters each and every year.
Shipping is among the most efficient modes of transport and among the most effective in reducing road congestion, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that is important to our future.
Transport Canada is collaborating as I speak with Canadian industry and the governments of the United States and Mexico to promote a more ecological use of North American shipping routes. We are encouraging increased shipping of people and goods along our coasts and using internal waterways.
With the possibility of increased shipping and marine traffic in potentially sensitive areas of Canada's Arctic, we must take steps right now to ensure that Canada is ready for this growth.
Our government is absolutely determined to protect our Arctic areas, which we will do by passing the measures before us with the help of our other colleagues in this place.
Marine transport is absolutely essential to Canada's economic viability in the future. We see it as a real growth industry for Canada. It can also, however, constitute a potential risk to people, to goods and to the environment. Hence, the reason for the bill. Most of these risks actually stem from the potential for mishaps inherent in most forms of industrial activity and all modes of transport. Most notable in shipping is the risk of collisions or grounding during which passengers and crew members can be injured, not to mention the risk of oil spills and other similar situations that arise as a result of these incidents.
These amendments would build upon initiatives that this government has already taken while fostering marine transportation activity to improve Canada's economy.
Shipping is a global activity and, therefore, it needs globally harmonized rules.
Canada is a founding member of the International Maritime Organization and has worked diligently toward multilateral solutions for issues facing marine transportation.Achieving global consistency in these rules would benefit the marine industry and Canada's trade with other nations and, ultimately, all Canadians.
These amendments would demand that commercial ships which carry Canadians have proper insurance. This covers all ships including commuter ferries and tour boats, and it simply makes sense for today's environment. This is not an unjust burden. We do it for the airline industry, why not the marine industry? Should Canadians feel less secure or be less safe on a ferry or a tour boat than on an airplane? We in this Conservative government do not think so. Canadians should feel safe and be protected in whatever mode of transportation they choose.
Canadians will be further protected while small businesses like whitewater rafting companies and sea kayaking guides, for example, will not be burdened by unfair economic regulations. During this particular time of global economic hardship we do not want to place any onerous regulations on small business owners that could potentially have serious consequences for the adventure travel industry, the individual owner, or indeed, seasonal employees.
Tourism is also a very important sector of the economy and is actually in a state of growth. Thousands upon thousands of Canadian jobs depend on tourism. These amendments would ensure that Canadians are protected while meeting the unique needs of marine adventure tourism. Most importantly, from an environmental perspective, these amendments to the Marine Liability Act would enhance the liability and compensation regimes that Canada has in place to respond to oil pollution from ships.
Canada has one of the longest coastlines in the world. We are bordered by three oceans and we use ships to carry a very significant portion of our trade each year. Large volumes of oil and other petroleum products pass through our ports every year, some 70 million tonnes annually. Much of that is on tankers with far bigger capacities than for instance, the Exxon Valdez, and most of us remember what happened in Alaska in 1989 in relation to that disastrous spill.
With the limitations of our current legislation Canada simply would not be able to cope with a spill of that magnitude if one were to happen tomorrow in our waters. Despite advances in both safety and technology, marine shipping spills still continue to happen. These damage the environment and often damage local economies. We cannot have that continue without some form of liability and compensation to those affected.
I am thinking in particular of the Hebei Spirit incident in South Korea in December 2007, after the vessel collided with another ship. That spill had huge costs and highlighted the need for a more effective response mechanism.
One does not need to go as far as Korea, however, to see the devastating effects of oil spills. We can simply look back at Canadian history. Many of us may recall the Kurdistan incident off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1979 or the Rio Orinoco incident near Anticosti Island in Quebec in 1992, or indeed even the Irving Whale incident of 1970 off the coast of Prince Edward Island.
While none of these spills was as big or as damaging as the Exxon Valdez or even the Hebei Spirit incident, a spill is a spill and is not acceptable, and Canada's luck may one day run out. That is why it is so important to continue with this aggressive stance in this legislation.
The bottom line is every day that we delay taking action and not putting in place the measures in this bill we add to the risk of victims going on without adequate compensation. That is not acceptable. People like fishermen and tourism operators who depend on the sea and waterways for their livelihoods need this protection.
These amendments would actually do something very significant. They would actually triple the level of compensation available to victims of oil spills from the maximum of $500 million, which seems like a great sum but it is not in these kinds of situations, to $1.5 billion, a tremendous sum. That is $1.5 billion for each and every incident. These massive increases in compensation would ensure strong protection for Canadians and the environment while maintaining a balance between associated interests, namely the ship owners and the oil companies that pay contributions into the fund's system. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for these costs.
Our government believes in holding polluters absolutely accountable for their actions. With the help of this legislation we will hold them accountable.
The bill also introduces an enhanced regime for shipowner liability for spills of bunker oil used to propel ships. These types of spills tend to be more common than those coming from larger tankers because virtually all ships sailing today use this type of oil. These kinds of spills happen in Canada often and can actually cause a lot of damage to the ecosystem.
Like the requirement already in place for tankers, this bunker oil liability regime would include a compulsory insurance provision which is a good thing. We need to ensure that shipowners can make good on their obligations. They need to be able to compensate as a result of their negligence or inaction.
I should note that these enhancements would enable Canada to also ratify two international maritime organization conventions that are based on the polluter pays principle. The benefits to Canada of continuing its long standing multilateral approach to international shipping and the ratification of these two conventions are very obvious.
Canada is behind the world currently on this issue and this Conservative government will ensure that Canada catches up and protects Canadians and our environment. In this we have the full support of industry as well which accepts its liability under the act and the international conventions.
It should also be noted that the amendments that we are discussing here today would actually establish a mandatory insurance requirement for passenger ships as well. Canadian businesses would benefit also and these amendments would put Canadian companies supplying foreign ships docked in our ports on equal footing with their American counterparts.
Currently, if a foreign ship does not pay its bill, Canadian companies are simply out of pocket. Under this bill that would change. Increased fairness would be achieved by providing our Canadian ship suppliers with a maritime lien, much like a building lien, as security for unpaid invoices.
These are Canadian companies that supply ships that call at Canadian ports with everything from fuel to water, to food and equipment that is being purchased. Today these businesses do not have the same rights as American businesses who supply the same ship in their own port. Not even our own courts here in Canada will do this. That is because American ship suppliers benefit from a lien in American law which can be enforced in Canadian courts.
These Canadian businesses have been telling the government for some time that they also need the same protection. This Conservative government is delivering that protection to them.
In conclusion, I would like to remind the House that with this legislation we are going to do four specific things: first, protect Canadians against oil spills and make sure that polluters pay; second, protect Canadians aboard passenger vessels which is so important; third, ensure the continued viability of an important tourism sector; and fourth, provide fairness for Canadian businesses that supply ships.
We believe that these proposed amendments are the very right thing to do and the best thing to do going forward. They strike the balance to encourage environmentally responsible marine transportation and to protect the interests of Canadians. That is why we are here in this place.
We are modernizing an outdated act and these are all changes that all Canadians can agree upon. I urge all hon. members to give the bill their unanimous support. I look forward to working with them when the bill reaches committee. I believe that we will be able to find very common ground and move forward with this legislation effectively and positively for the benefit of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to join in this debate today.
On behalf of my party, the official opposition, we will be taking a very close look at Bill because we think it has some valuable elements that need to be studied in greater detail in committee.
Before I carry on with my debate, I want to note that the parliamentary secretary is always irrepressible in his desire to make mountains out of molehills, even if molehills are important for the moles that inhabit them and for the people who rely on them, but he will make a great deal out of very little. Bill , although very important, has given him a launching pad to talk about the economy and the environment even though it has very little to do with both.
He is right about the fact that the act may be inadequate, especially as it pertains to those issues which he outlined. This is, after all, a correction of and an adjustment to those issues that relate to liability under the marine act. For those who are unfamiliar with the terms, it has to do with who has to pay in the event of a transgression that Canadians would find absolutely unacceptable, whether they find it unacceptable on the personal liability side, or whether they find it unacceptable on the side of damage to the environment, to the geography, to those assets that Canadians have come to view as part of their standard of living and quality of life.
The parliamentary secretary is right. The bill is about that, but it is only about that. It is an important issue, and as I said, we will study it in detail in committee.
I want to outline for the House that the bill says that those who pollute will have the responsibility for the pollution itself and therefore, will suffer the liabilities in court because that is what we are going to do. We are going to harmonize our expectations with those of others in the world. We have not done that before. That is why the bill is inept. That is why the law as it stands has been adequate. That is why the parliamentary secretary, after three years in government, has finally awakened to that fact. Now we are going to harmonize the expectations of Canadians with the expectations and the practices of the world. That is what this legislation purports to do. We will see if in fact it does that.
It is encouraging that polluters would go from the current liability of $545 million to about $1.5 billion. It is encouraging as well that those who one might view simply as passengers or erstwhile in their association with activities and vessels that engage in activities--I hate to use the same word twice as I am beginning to sound like the parliamentary secretary and some of the Conservatives when they talk about getting the job done, but if the word fits, then I guess I may as well use it once or twice--but the important thing to keep in mind is that those who engage in cruises or some of the adventure tours should not be held responsible for those who bring them into those places and who, unbeknownst to them, shift off some of the liabilities for any of the pollution that they may create or the degradation that they may cause.
That is what the bill purports to do. It would do those two things. It does not say nor is there a mechanism for it to ensure that there is not going to be any pollution. It says that if the owners of those enterprises or those vessels do pollute, they will suffer more severely, potentially in a court of law. Why? Because we are going to raise the premiums and we are going to give greater access and greater application to those conventions already existing on a world scale and in which we have been lagging.
If this is a piece of legislation that brings us up to snuff, as people say, and allows us to meet a standard that is appropriate for everybody else and thereby hopefully builds a greater sense of responsibility on the part of the owners of those vessels or those who arrange activities, then that is good. That is why we are going to be positive as we address this legislation.
When I said earlier that the parliamentary secretary catapults from that into other things, he invites us to take a look at other issues that are related both to the economy and to the environment, but the government is engaged more and more in what we do with the jurisdiction that is provided.
For example, they become management issues, and the management issue of the day is associated with the way the economy is performing. I think the parliamentary secretary and some of his colleagues on the government side have said that the economy is not performing very well, that they are going to stimulate it and engage in a stimulus package that is going to spend dozens of billions of dollars in order to get the economy going. Because the parliamentary secretary invited us to peek through that window, I am going to ask him how this relates to the main agenda of the day, the main agenda of governments everywhere, and I would imagine it should be even this one. It certainly is seized by parliamentarians on this side of the House. I might give a rather gratuitous compliment to the members of the other opposition parties who are also seized with the issue of stimulating the economy. With what means? It is the topic of the day every day. We see it in every headline.
The says that the government is going to stimulate, and then in the fine print, the government is going to sell off crown assets. Every crown corporation apparently is now up for grabs because the Minister of Finance needs the money in order to pay for the stimulus package, none of which is already on the table, none of which is focused on building an infrastructure for tomorrow's prosperity, none of which is focused on establishing a vision for tomorrow. What will Canadians get for the billions of dollars that this House will authorize the government to spend?
The parliamentary secretary invited that kind of observation when he talked about this bill, the marine liability bill, as being an economic bill and an environmental bill. I ask him, why would we invest additional moneys in some of the projects that he and his are proposing?
I do not want to pick on poor VIA Rail, but it seems it is one of the ones the Conservatives want to get rid of and dump very quickly. VIA Rail carries about 8,000 passengers a day. It receives $212 million in government subsidies per year. That is about 45% of all of its operating costs, and the Conservatives are going to dump another $300 million into VIA Rail before they put it on the block, for how much? Where is the vision? Where is the economic plan to spend all these stimulus dollars, to see that more people ride these trains and save on the environmental costs associated with train travel, assuming that they believe that that actually happens?
I think they believe it almost happens, because just last week they joined with the province of Ontario in giving about $500 million to build parking lots for potential passengers on GO trains and GO buses. Imagine, about $500 million is going toward that. That is anywhere between $25,000 and $75,000 per parking spot, depending on what the operational costs were by way of contribution of any of the parties.
They are going to spend about $300 million to improve VIA Rail. We do not know how they are going to do that, but they are not going to increase ridership and they do not know whether they are going to dump it. They want to get rid of it.
They want to get rid of other assets, such as Canada Post, for example. It is a revenue generating business. It raises about $7.3 billion per annum, but apparently it is up for sale because the needs money to build this economic engine that he says will function, and which the parliamentary secretary says is resident in Bill . I do not know; I did not see that in Bill C-7, but I hope to find all the things associated with marine liabilities.
I am concerned that what we ought to be doing is looking at the suggestion of the parliamentary secretary of the kinds of investments the government will make for improving the infrastructure of tomorrow. What grand vision do the Conservatives have for the country?
For example, I find some of these ideas from virtually everywhere, and if members will permit me, I will borrow shamelessly from a Canadian resident in Quebec.
Mr. Renaud wrote to me on the subject of Canada, a bridge between Asia and Europe. He said we have billions of dollars to spend and now is the time to spend it. He added that we have the political will, the authority, the support of the people, and also the money—money to do what?
I would like to read just one sentence: “Prime Minister Laurier was convinced that a second rail line further away from the American border was essential to Canada's economic prosperity.”
Let us think about this for a moment. Here is an ordinary Canadian who looked back through our history and found an example of a politician who had neither the money nor the political ability to undertake a project in which Canada's development as a whole was the focus of the legislation.
And now this man, this Canadian, Mr. Renaud, tells us that, 100 years later, the Canadian railway system has wasted away.
It got smaller.
Mr. Renaud also says:
|| The technology has not changed much. Operating costs are not competitive and Canadian economic development is overly concentrated on the north-south axis.
This government claims that it will protect and contribute to the growth of our country and boasts about doing it with a bill such as Bill . Just imagine! This bill deals with insurance and legal accountability. And they want us to believe that this bill will move the country forward.
Mr. Renaud continues:
|| Western oil does not make it to the east coast of Canada but is readily available to Americans.
Just think about that a little. It is available to Americans.
The electrical resources of Quebec and Labrador are more readily available to the U.S. than to the other Canadian provinces, including mine. We are speaking of Quebec's north. The member opposite spoke of a plan for the north, a great plan for all of Canada, in . We have to laugh. Northern Quebec and Labrador are rich in electricity and natural resources that must be transported by waterways to the heart of the continent. Resources from Abitibi and north of Lac-Saint-Jean must necessarily be transported to Quebec City or Montreal, resulting in the development of those cities. It is a praiseworthy objective but it is not the development of the north.
Before looking to the centre of the continent or to Asia, the Government of Canada should propose developing fast transportation arteries on land from one ocean to another, a sort of transcontinental economic bridge between Europe and Asia. That bridge, according to Mr. Renaud, should be less expensive to operate and compatible with Canada's commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The parliamentary secretary says that Bill is an environmental bill. Here is what Mr. Renaud says. He raises a practical idea:
|| If it is more energy efficient, the advent of energy transportation will likely generate profit and prosperity for all of Canada. Using hydroelectric power, it will certainly be less harmful to the environment. Strong regions make for a strong Canada, and the federal government should therefore seize the opportunity to get involved in Premier Jean Charest's plan to develop northern Quebec. The northern plan will be cost-effective only if it is supported by east-west transportation arteries.
This is an idea that speaks of collaboration, cooperation and vision in partnership with other governments that have plans to develop the country. The corridor should follow the 51st parallel, a line that runs along the southern edge of Labrador and passes north of the Manicouagan reservoir and Lake Mistassini and along James Bay, reaching the Pacific Ocean north of Vancouver.
That is a pan-Canadian vision. I could keep on reading other people's ideas, but my point is that there are ideas all across this country about what to do with the billions of dollars the government has today, thanks to the opposition. What is their plan? To address gaps in the commercial courts. These are good ideas, but it is shameful to pass them off as economic and environmental plans.
It is also shameful considering the other bills we began studying in committee yesterday.
I get carried away in French. Not being bilingual, I try to do the best I can. I hope members will forgive me for this.
We were talking about Bill . The parliamentary secretary enjoys the greatest support in the House from members of opposition parties as he puts bills before the committee. There is no other parliamentary secretary that enjoys such co-operation. He is going to talk about the transport of dangerous goods. We are talking about technical things. We understand, according to the minister, that everything is already okay, that everything is already being done. Therefore, we will use Bill C-9 to develop the economy.
That is great. Tell us how that happens. We want to be co-operative. We want to ensure he gets the money, the jurisdiction and the support. All these things are important. What do we do? We make this suggestion. Why not take advantage of the fact that now he talks about the need for security in the country? It has nothing to do with the Olympics in Vancouver, but any excuse is a good excuse at this time. What we need are projects on the table to get the moneys rolling.
One of them might be that we take a look at the security of transmission of goods across the country. I talked for a few moments about passenger rail and about commercial. We talked about moving goods and materials across the country. However, we have another mode as well. Mr. Renaud says that as soon as we build this railway, we will find that we will spend lots of money to build roadways as well because surely development will follow.
It has followed. One of the biggest industries in our country is the trucking industry. There has always been a shortage of truckers because it is a tough job. It might be well paying, but it is a tough job. The parliamentary secretary and his minister said that we needed to ensure that everybody was absolutely secure, that everybody was okay and that they would have to be acceptable by the Americans. If they are not acceptable by the Americans, those trucks will roll up to the border, especially in British Columbia, and the American truckers on the other side will say that those guys are not safe and that they will take over from there. Goodbye Canadian business.
There are vehicle immobilization technologies and there are six companies in Canada that can do this job and do it well. Some of the companies are already familiar with this. They slow down vehicles or completely immobilize them.
I mentioned to the minister, his officials and the parliamentary secretary that we should get some of these people here so we could look at building in regulations that would ensure our trucking industry was fully seized of the importance of putting these into their system and making it part of the carriage of commerce and people. This would suggest that there is at least a minimum bit of a thought in terms of building for an infrastructure for tomorrow.
I know members will want to hear more about this and I will be delighted if they ask me to say more.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill .
For your benefit and that of everyone listening, I would like to read the bill summary:
|| This enactment amends Parts 3 and 4 of the Marine Liability Act to clarify certain rules of the limitation of liability of owners of ships for maritime claims and liability for the carriage of passengers, in particular the treatment of participants in adventure tourism activities.
|| It also amends Part 6 of that Act to implement the Protocol of 2003 to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992 as well as the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001. The enactment continues, in Part 7, the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund and modernizes its governance. With respect to Part 8, it includes general provisions relating to the administration and enforcement of offences under that Act and creates a maritime lien for Canadian ship suppliers against foreign vessels and establishes a general limitation period for proceedings not covered by other limitation periods.
|| Finally, this enactment amends the Federal Courts Act and makes consequential amendments to other Acts.
To begin, I would like to say that the Bloc Québécois will be supporting this bill. Obviously, we cannot be against updating the Marine Liability Act and the Federal Courts Act and implementing the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001, as well as the Protocol of 2003 to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992.
There is, however, a problem. The speeches in this House, including that of the parliamentary secretary, talk about urgency. Rightly so. The government has been boasting about signing these conventions. Except that as long as the legislation is not amended, the government cannot implement the conventions.
Yes, we will agree to this and we will help ensure that this law is created through Bill C-7. However, it is important that we discuss some of these issues. Speeches are nice. And it is nice to say, as the parliamentary secretary did, that we need to update and implement these things, and quickly. However, there was the same urgency in the last Parliament, and the Conservative government decided to call an election for purely political and partisan reasons, even though the had passed legislation on fixed election dates. Back then, there was no problem. There was no urgency about this bill. That was in September 2008. It was in 2001 and 2003 that we signed the conventions that we cannot implement today.
The question I asked the parliamentary secretary is important. For our part, we are working. As a responsible political party, we have always done our part on all the committees of the House of Commons. As you know, we are the only party that defends the interests of Quebeckers.
Given that we have the St. Lawrence, a magnificent tool, we cannot be opposed to this bill. The problem is that we have to be able to implement this bill as soon as possible, before there is a disaster. For example, there could be a shipping accident that creates a natural disaster, and we would not be able to determine who is liable or we would not have the money to clean up the parts of the river contaminated by an oil spill.
What we in the Bloc Québécois are saying is yes, we want to get down to work, but we need to guarantee results. Otherwise, we create expectations, and the general public could well pay the price one day, just because a Conservative prime minister decided for partisan reasons that it was time to call an election. The Bloc Québécois had good reason to support a coalition even though it was not part of the coalition government: we wanted to work.
That was the goal. We were not part of the coalition government, but we wanted to move things forward at a time of economic crisis, and we guaranteed a stable government for the term of the agreement.
It is important to understand that when the Bloc Québécois gets up in the House of Commons, it is acting in the interest of Quebeckers. This bill, which is very important, should survive. We should do everything we can to make sure that happens, to achieve our goal, which is to implement this bill. After analyzing this bill, no one can be opposed to amending the Marine Liability Act or making companies liable.
During long debates in this House, we had the opportunity to discuss shipowners' property. Moreover, a former member of this House owned ships that flew different flags, none of them Canadian. Often, shipowners do this for civil liability reasons. It allows them to hire cheaper labour, but it is primarily for civil liability reasons. We need to address this situation. Too many multinationals are making huge profits and shirking their responsibilities. These conventions were signed for a reason.
When representatives of shipowners were asked about this in committee, they told us that that is how the industry's market works. So, yes, that is what the industry must do to remain competitive. It must employ workers at lower wages and make sure it has as little civil liability as possible in the event of an accident or anything that could jeopardize the business or eat into its profits.
They operate vessels that belong to them under different flags and use tax havens, and so on. When asked in committee, they very candidly told us that that was the industry's role and that was how it works in the industry. It is time to clean up the industry. When disasters and accidents happen, or when enormous sums of money have to be paid to decontaminate or clean up waters, all too often the companies disappear, the subsidiaries vanish and there is no one to take responsibility. Such legislation is therefore very welcome.
This brings me to the work that must be done on such a bill. The parliamentary secretary told us that he drafted this bill with the industry. However, in committee, we must be able to call the necessary witnesses: first of all the industry, to ensure that discussions did in fact take place, but also everyone who might have a direct or indirect connection to the bill. This will allow us to see if the bill will be effective. It is indeed important to add measures and create a compensation fund, but is that enough?
Researchers and academic experts in the field have analyzed what was happening around the world. It is important that we do a good job. These conventions were adopted in 2001 and 2003. However, it is now 2009 and we still do not have any legislation to implement them. If we implement one, it should at least be the right one. That is what the Bloc Québécois will work towards throughout the committee process.
It is important to realize that this is the fourth bill that the Conservatives have sent to the committee. A certain order is required. It is fine by us, the committee members. However, with each bill we should at least ensure that the appropriate steps are taken. Thus, witnesses are invited, and so forth. It is as though they want to pass, in the next three weeks, all the work done by this government in the past three years so that they can then call an election.
That is why I am asking these questions. Many bills are being referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. We are prepared to do our job. That is not a problem. However, we want to understand and try to guess why this all has to be done in a mad rush. In the last session, when in power, the Conservatives had to set aside many bills because they decided to opt for an early election and contravene their own legislation. We are not required to adopt any old thing just to please them.
That worries me a little. The Liberals have become buddy-buddy with the Conservatives to the point that it is even embarrassing. That is their decision. It does not matter except that we see them going into the committees. For example, I am thinking of the meetings of the Standing Committee on Finance held this week. I briefly watched the proceedings on television and I saw how they cozy up to them, so much so that they have no backbone left. I watched Quebec members, including the member for Bourassa. It was quite something to see them turn themselves inside out and adopt things that they would never before have accepted in their lives. All because they want to save their seats in the House of Commons. I find that hard to take.
I repeat, the Bloc Québécois is doing what it has to do. We may not be buddy-buddy, but we like to work in committee to advance the interests of Quebeckers. We have always done so, I have ever since the first day I was here back in 2000, and so did those who were here before me. We are a highly responsible party. We can move ahead on files provided we can get a good look at them. But when we get four bills rushed at us simultaneously, that creates problems. We will not be able to pass them all on the same day, and choices will have to be made.
I will leave it to the parliamentary secretary to speak to the . It was fine, he met with us twice. The first time he had a lot to say. We used the text he had distributed just about everywhere in Quebec. The second time he had just about nothing to say. We will see what happens the next time. People who think that Parliament is a boring place where nothing happens are wrong. They need to look at what gets done in committee to understand that MPs are not sitting doing nothing, they are in Parliament to make changes.
As for Bill on marine liability, there have been examples. We have been pretty lucky in Quebec and along the St. Lawrence. With the exception of an incident ten years or so ago, we have been spared as far as accidents go, touch wood. Yes, we have been spared but this is nonetheless a very worrisome situation. The ships that ply our waters are getting bigger and bigger all the time. When damage does occur, it will be bigger too.
There needs to be an update, if only of the fines, the penalties or compensation to be paid. The polluter pay principle is part of this bill. Where the environment is concerned, the Bloc Québécois has always defended that principle. As for the Conservatives—and I was pleased to see it just now—the parliamentary secretary got really worked up about the polluter pay principle. You never can tell with the Conservatives. When it suits them, it is polluter pay, and when it does not, it is pay the polluter.
Finally, in terms of the environment, the Conservatives are dreaming up intensity targets with 2006 as the base year when the Kyoto protocol uses 1990 as the base year. All of the efforts made by Quebec's manufacturing industry since 1990, with the aim of being eligible to sell credits on the international market, will be for nothing. The year 2006 has been chosen because the oil companies did nothing between 1990 and 2006. They will be rewarded. Those that polluted the most in comparison to the 1990 Kyoto standard will be the ones that will receive the biggest reward. It is the concept of polluter-paid. They will receive help to reach the goals.
The Conservatives know it and the has tried hard to justify it.
I listened to his reaction to the speech by the President of the United States, Mr. Obama. The Prime Minister said that intensity targets and absolute targets are one and the same. Experts know that they are not the same. Of course, for the public who do not have the opportunity to follow all of these issues every day, it is not easy to keep up.
I had the opportunity to tour the regions with the leader of the Bloc Québécois in January. The mayor of Rivière-du-Loup told us that with absolute targets he would be able to sell his credits because he has a landfill and has reduced his greenhouse gas emissions. He made a point of telephoning the European carbon exchange and was told that he is not eligible because he is in Canada and Canada does not conform to the Kyoto protocol. So he will never be able to access the carbon exchange. Currently, it is the only exchange in the world that applies. There is the Chicago Exchange, and European exchanges, but no Canadian businesses are eligible because Canada does not conform to the Kyoto protocol and does not participate in it.
The is trying to set up his own carbon exchange with 2006 as the base year. He is probably trying to convince the U.S. to do the same. Members will have gathered, however, that a Canada-only carbon exchange would carry a lower cost, given that there are much fewer businesses capable of buying carbon credits in Canada than there are worldwide. The mayor of Rivière-du-Loup could have made $1 million from the sale of his credits on the world market. On the Canadian market, he could get $200,000 or so for his credits. This would mean lost profits of $800,000 for him because the Government of Canada decided to set up its own carbon exchange with a much smaller market and, thus, much smaller amounts being paid for carbon credits.
I chose the example of a municipality which would need that $800,000 or $1 million for its citizens, because there is a landfill in that municipality, which is something of an inconvenience. The fact is that, sometimes, offsetting that with credits that benefit the community helps make up for other situations which have a negative impact on the community.
We have heard the praise the polluter pay principle. I hope we will see this trend continue with all this government's bills and decisions. I encourage the parliamentary secretary to work, especially with his colleague, the environment minister, and even more so with the , to make absolutely sure that the same polluter pay principle will be applied. Of course, the tar sands are in large part located in the parliamentary secretary's riding, which tells me that he himself will have a hard time—
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the Marine Liability Act amendments.
In my research on this particular subject, it appears that this legislation has been on the books for consideration for some time. In May 2005, Transport Canada put forward a maritime law reform discussion paper in which it put forward many of the points that are in this bill.
Many of these protocols have been in existence, as we have pointed out, since 1976, 1992, 2001 and 2003, and they have not been ratified. Many of the aspects within them have been implemented within the Marine Liability Act in one form or another. We have seen that Canada, over the years, has taken international conventions from international marine liability work and has implemented them into its legislation but has not ratified the actual conventions in many cases. These are amendments to the law that would bring things up to date.
Under the Constitution of Canada, Parliament has the exclusive authority to make laws in relation to navigation and shipping but the provincial legislatures have the exclusive legislative authority to make laws in relation to property and to civil rights. It is worth keeping in mind this division on power because it does play out in terms of some of the issues around liability and some of the issues that are important in this bill.
When we consider what the bill has done under part 4 of the act, it sets a per capita limit of liability that would limit the liability for the carriage of passengers, in particular the treatment of participants in adventure tourism activities. That was something in the act that was of great concern to adventure tourism operators. In 1992, legislation under the Marine Liability Act caused the waivers used by many adventure tourism people in their businesses, waivers to limit their liability for their customers engaged in recreational activities where there was some degree of hazard, to become invalid.
This bill attempts to bring those back so that these waivers for the adventure tourism sector can be used and are valid. This is a very important thing and certainly will be a subject of discussion at committee when this bill moves forward. We would like to see it move forward. It has been many years in getting to this point.
If there is blame, we can blame the previous administration, the Liberal government. Obviously, it formulated the Maritime law reform discussion paper with the questions that were carried out at that time and we can see that many of these conventions, not ratified over many years, are in place. Governments, obviously, have been slow in moving on this.
I would like to understand in committee why governments have been slow and get to why this has not happened in a fashion that would have provided some of the protections that are now being put forward. That may clear the air in much of this regard.
Other parts of the bill will amend part 6 of the act to implement the protocol for the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage,1992; as well as the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001. It would change the liability regime in the ship source oil pollution fund. It would do a number of things that would change the way major things like oil spills in our waters are handled, but will it actually provide the protections required?
Interestingly enough, the parliamentary secretary indicated that the fund that is established will provide perhaps $1.5 billion toward oil spill remediation but when we look at the Exxon Valdez, we see that the total cost for the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill 20 years ago and onward was some $2.5 billion.
Therefore, even within the context of what we are putting forward here, we have examples of accidents that have cost more to clean up than what would be available under this fund.
The fund, interestingly enough, if it is drawn down, will need to be replenished by states that import oil on a levy basis. Within the act, there are various considerations about who will be liable, what conditions the liability will extend to the owners and what conditions the owners will find themselves without the wherewithal to provide compensation to the people who have the oil spill damage.
We are entering into a complex business with this bill and these conventions. I look forward to having the opportunity to have expert witnesses come before us and present their case for these conventions. These conventions have not been adopted quickly by our government. We have been operating under a particular regime for some considerable time.
I talked about oil spills the other day and, in the case of Arctic waters, I mentioned that we do not have the capacity or the ability to deal with oil spills in waters that have more than 35% ice content. We cannot get the oil out of the water with the present technology. When we talk about the development of the Arctic and the Arctic waters and bringing in more ships and commercial activity, such as drilling rigs, service vessels, and transshipping through the Northwest Passage, which, even when it is ice free, is a very dangerous passageway, this is not wide open ocean. It has shallow areas with much of the charting that is not conventionally carried by ships. We have significant concern in the Arctic about what is going to happen with shipping in there. We do not have the capacity to deal with oil spills in waters that have a great percentage of ice but that is the kind of water that the ships will be going through.
When we talk about Canada's ability to act in an environmental sense, which the parliamentary secretary suggested the bill would somehow deal with the environment and protect the environment from damage, in reality it would simply assign costs, in a variety of ways, to either funds that are internationally set up or to provide mechanisms to identify and to make the shipowners who caused the spill responsible for that.
This is not really an environmental bill. It is a bill about who will be responsible. We already have some provisions in our acts to deal with some of those aspects.
When we come to actually examining this bill, do we want to push ahead with all speed on these provisions or do we want to understand completely what they will mean to us, as a country, in relationship to the vast ocean and coastal areas we have from sea to sea to sea in Canada?
We want to make sure that we cover all these issues in great detail as the bill moves forward. For that reason we are quite interested in seeing the bill move forward to committee. Dealing with the bill in committee is not going to be a slam dunk affair. The bill has a variety of ramifications and it has been around for a considerable period of time. We want to understand why the bill has not come forward before this time. What are the positive aspects of these international conventions? What are the things that may not be as we want them to be for our country?
We need Bill , but we need to work on it. I am sure all of the members on the transport committee will be looking forward to spending time on this legislation. As my Bloc colleague on committee pointed out, this is the fourth bill that is working its way through the system and the transport committee. We will have to set priorities for handling these bills. We have to make sure that they move forward. At the same time we cannot ignore the details of such an important bill.