Bill C-253 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canada Marine Act
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.
Paul Crête Bloc
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
Canada Marine Act
Private Members' Business
May 17th, 2001 / 5:45 p.m.
Norman E. Doyle St. John's East, NL
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to say a few words on Bill C-253, an act to amend the Canada Marine Act.
The summary at the beginning of the private member's bill indicates that the bill would create a new class of port under the name “local port council”. The summary goes on to say:
Regional and local ports that become local port councils are not required to be financially self-sustaining when they are incorporated and may receive financial assistance from the federal government.
It goes on to say:
When a local court council becomes financially self-sustaining, some aspects of a local port council may be transferred to the government of the province where the port operated as a local port council is located.
As this is a private member's bill I assume the hon. member proposing the bill must have a port or ports in his region or constituency that fits the thrust of the bill. In the ordinary course of events many ports that were operated directly by the federal government over the years have been placed under local port authorities.
It is interesting to see what has happened in some of the eastern Canadian provinces and, in particular, in my own province of Newfoundland. The federal government has been delinquent in how it has been treating small communities that have these wharves. These little wharves and local ports were built under Canada works projects or LIP grants. Since the current administration came to power about 10 years ago it has completely abandoned those small communities and has sent them adrift.
When communities look for money to do repairs on these small local wharves they are given the old song and dance routine that it is no longer viable to keep these wharves and ports operating. As a result they have become dilapidated. The federal government waves its hand and says that they are not getting any money because they have become dangerous and a hazard to navigation.
Therefore it is okay for ports that have sufficient traffic and an appropriate infrastructure already in place. They are able to get along quite well. They have financial viability combined with the flexibility and sensitivity that can only come from independent local management. However, in the case of small communities, the viability of these small ports and wharves cannot be maintained without the involvement of the federal government.
The problem arises when the local port has dedicated local users or it is vital to the local economy but it is not viable in the financial sense. The government appears to be getting out of the business of running such facilities as a service to the public.
For example, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is currently divesting itself of 325 harbours nationwide. That is a blow to the communities. A full 42% of these ports are located in the province of Newfoundland. I would say to my colleague that there is quite a number of them located in Nova Scotia, in Guysborough county, and in New Brunswick. However 42% of them are in Newfoundland.
Given the state of the province's rural economy, many harbours will have nobody coming forward to set up a local port authority. Perhaps many of the harbours in other provinces on the list are also non-viable in a financial sense. What will become of them?
In the past, many of the wharves, sheds and breakwaters were put out to tender for dismantling or demolition, but the watchword of the federal government these days is viability or debt. If it is not viable it goes. The parliamentary secretary gets up and gives such glowing reports on the federal government and how it is looking after all these things when that is simply not true.
I invite him to come to Atlantic Canada. He should get out of central Canada for a change and get out in the boondocks. He should come to Atlantic Canada and see what is going on in the small communities. I am sure the parliamentary secretary and the Minister of Transport would have a much different outlook on what they are doing to these small communities. The watchword of the federal government is viability or debt as far as ports and harbours are concerned.
Incidentally the same applies to airports. We have many airports in rural Canada that are being forced under local airport authorities and are now facing a struggle for their very existence. Such airports might be invaluable to the local people and economy, but the traffic volumes are not there to sustain an economically viable operation. The end result for many of these ports and airports would be closure unless the government is willing to subsidize the operations.
Bill C-253 does not directly address the policy question about whether or not the federal government should directly maintain financially non-viable ports as a public service. However the member proposing the bill is offering the federal government an indirect route to maintain non-viable ports by setting up a new entity called local port councils.
In the bill the government is being offered a vehicle through which it can subsidize the continued existence of financially non-viable ports. The parliamentary secretary and the Minister of Transport would do well to listen to the member who is proposing the bill.
I note that the wording in the bill reads that the minister may approve the setting up of a local port council. The Minister may make financial assistance available to such a port council. The Minister may transfer all or part of such a facility to the provincial government if the port becomes financially viable.
The local people in an area might be all for setting up a local port council to save a financially non-viable port, but they would be dependent on the goodwill of the minister to turn any of that into a reality.
To give it more teeth, a bill such as this one should try to establish certain objective criteria for port viability. Once the port meets those criteria, it is appropriate for there to be wording in the bill to say that the minister shall provide funding until such time as it becomes viable. The problem is that I am not sure the minister would want to be bound by the word shall.
The government appears to be getting out of running all kinds of services that are not financially viable. If local entities cannot run services on a self-sustaining basis, we can expect their closure or elimination. As I said a moment ago, with the current government the watchword has been viability or death over the last seven or eight years.
If nothing else, the member's bill points out a growing reality of the total elimination of federal services in institutions in rural Canada. The post office is now in the local drug store. The rail spurs are gone. The local airport is closing. Ports and harbours are being abandoned or dismantled.
The member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough said that the federal government was hot to trot on trying to get out of a whole range of services. It is looking at banks. It is looking at an awful lot of things. As I said, viability or death is the watchword of the government.
If the bill helps the member draw attention to a potentially viable port in his area, and if it sheds light on the problems we are having in rural Atlantic Canada, it is worthy of the effort. I congratulate the member on presenting the bill. We certainly support it.
Canada Marine Act
Private Members' Business
May 17th, 2001 / 5:30 p.m.
Brent St. Denis Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his work on Bill C-253.
The Canada Marine Act, which the member would like to amend, calls for a statutory review by June 2003. Given that there are a lot of other items that would certainly need to be reviewed under the umbrella of the Canada Marine Act, it is our view on this side that his proposals would best be left for review, again to be concluded by June 2003.
Let me explain a little bit about the Canada Marine Act and why we feel the way we do, notwithstanding the good work he has done thus far and, no doubt, will continue to do.
The Canada Marine Act was passed in 1998. It was intended to and does help the Canadian port system to become more efficient, competitive and commercially oriented to commercialize the operations of the St. Lawrence Seaway and ferry services and to improve the operations of pilotage authorities. It marked the first comprehensive effort to increase competitiveness and to reduce costs in the marine sector. By making it easier for ports to operate according to business principles, it will make the marine sector even more competitive than it is now.
The benefits of the act are substantial. Ports benefit from reduced red tap, increased freedom to develop contracts and leases and to set tariffs and fees, and because funding no longer comes from the federal treasury, they will be free to pursue private sector capital to finance port projects.
The Canada Marine Act was a product of a lengthy and comprehensive review process. In 1994 the then minister of transport requested the House of Commons standing committee on transport to undertake a broad review of the marine sector in recognition of an inherent need to modernize Canada's marine system to ensure that the major ports and other marine infrastructures were in a strong position to respond to the demands in international trade, which is critical to Canada's growth.
In other words, there was a need for a port system that could serve both domestic and foreign shippers efficiently, one that was not only reliable and competitive but also one that could compete with the best in the world.
The standing committee issued its report in 1995 after hearing the views of provincial governments, municipalities, organized labour, shippers and other marine industry stakeholders.
In December of 1995, following a further round of consultations, we announced our national marine policy and our intention to bring in legislation containing comprehensive changes to the ports, the seaway, the ferries and the pilotage components of the marine industry.
The Canada Marine Act received royal assent on June 11, 1998.
The Canada Marine Act is a success story. Canada's major commercial ports are now competing on a level playing field for the first time. They have the tools they need to compete in the 21st century.
The St. Lawrence Seaway, which runs right past our Speaker's door in his riding, has been commercialized with control passing to a non-profit corporation controlled by the users of the system. It is saving money on operations. Ferry services have also been commercialized and changes to the pilotage regime have been implemented.
The Canada Marine Act provided the authority to dissolve the Canada Ports Corporation, which the government did on November 1, 2000. It was not long ago that the running of Canada's ports was being stifled by too much centralized government decision making, including the role played by Canada Ports Corporation.
To remain competitive with American ports, Canadian ports needed to reduce their transaction times and their overhead costs to make the kinds of local decisions that make commercial sense. The new port authorities have been a great success because control of the ports is now in the hands of those best able to adjust to competition and introduce greater efficiency in the marine sector.
This sector is vital to Canada's competitiveness in a global economy. It provides us with a key strategic advantage in the movement of key commodities for important industries such as steel and container traffic. It is also becoming evident that the marine mode is in a good position to benefit and participate in the growth of the worldwide tourism industry.
The cruise industry in Canada is witnessing a staggering growth on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts in the number of visits being paid annually to the Canadian ports and in the amount this industry adds to the Canadian economy. Canada's cruise industry is forecast to continue its growth for some time to come.
It should also be noted that the world looks to the marine mode to provide leadership in terms of setting the standard for an environmentally sustainable and safe mode of transport. It is evident that the marine mode is not just important for economic reasons but because of the Canada Marine Act it has contributed to other aspects of our well-being.
The intent of the Canada Marine Act was to curtail the federal government's extensive involvement in port operations, to introduce a high level of commercial decision making, to encourage financial self-sufficiency and to reduce inefficiencies and overcapacity, which I believe are being achieved.
As well, under the old regime we believe that the taxpayers of Canada were not receiving an adequate return for the funding of many port development projects over the years. To date, as a government, we have created 18 Canada port authorities and will soon have 19 when the Hamilton port authority is created.
Canada port authorities are defined as federally incorporated, non-share capital, not for profit corporations with powers and responsibilities similar to corporations established under the Canada Business Corporations Act. Under this regime, which combines various aspects of the old port regimes, the Canada Marine Act has given Canada port authorities the autonomy and flexibility to operate according to business principles and to make investment decisions to the overall benefit of the port authority.
The proposed amendments contained in Bill C-253 will create a third class of ports which will receive automatic federal funding. These ports will be competing directly with Canada port authorities who are legally prohibited from receiving federal appropriations other than under a program of general application.
Under the Canada Marine Act, port authorities operate in a more commercial manner than under previous regimes. As Canada port authorities are not eligible for federal appropriation of funds, they are required to borrow funds from private markets. This gives port authorities the ability to make investment decisions to their overall benefit without government approval in advance, thereby allowing a quicker response time in the ever changing business environment of today.
In addition, the Canada Marine Act gives port authorities the ability to make their own operating bylaws and charge harbour dues without having to obtain governor in council approval. By making it easier for ports to operate according to business principles, cut excessive red tape and reduce overhead costs, it puts port authorities in a better position to meet their own needs and the needs of their customers. Also, port authorities now have increased authority to lease land and to determine priorities associated with capital expenditures.
If a new port class were to be created and were to receive subsidies, it would undermine the level playing field of the financial rules and authorities that have been created for ports coast to coast. The government's view is that the current proposal is unnecessary and would re-introduce the inefficiencies and overcapacity that existed prior to the Canada Marine Act.
Another main objective of the Canada Marine Act was to focus the Government of Canada's attention on ports vital to domestic and international trade. These ports have become or will become Canada port authorities. All other ports, except for those that serve the remote regions of the country, are to be divested to local or regional interests.
I believe that local users are in the best position to determine the level of service required at these ports and that the Government of Canada is prepared to negotiate a fair and reasonable transfer funding package to help ensure the long term viability of these facilities.
In that regard, the government has also established a $125 million divestiture fund. The purpose of this fund includes the following uses: bringing existing port divestiture up to a minimum safety or operating standard, covering a portion of the cost incurred by the transferee in complying with regulatory or insurance requirements, making a lump sum payment to facilitate the takeover of a port, assisting a group of communities or other interests to take over a collection of ports and to achieve cost savings by rationalizing infrastructure.
The intent of the fund is to facilitate port transfers and to provide a one time contribution to help ensure the port's long term viability.
A lot of good work has been accomplished by the government through the Canada Marine Act. Its five year review will be coming up by June 2003. I would encourage my hon. friend across the way to discuss his ideas with other stakeholders in the marine community and to make sure his ideas are brought into the mix during that review. We wish him well, nonetheless, with his work on behalf of his constituents.
Canada Marine Act
Private Members' Business
May 17th, 2001 / 5:15 p.m.
Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
moved that Bill C-253, an act to amend the Canada Marine Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to put before the House of Commons this bill I tabled, which aims to bring the Canada Marine Act into line with the reality of our regional ports.
First off, I will give a bit of background on why this bill had to be introduced.
In 1995, the Government of Canada decided to institute a policy of divesting itself of regional ports. Some ports were inactive, others were operating. Some were not cost effective, others were. The federal government therefore decided to establish a policy that would enable local communities possibly to acquire the port facilities.
In my riding, the port of Cacouna was affected. A port development corporation took this question on and studied the matter in depth. I would say it learned a lot about managing a commercial port like that of Cacouna.
The rule also spread to all regional ports along the St. Lawrence. Analysis has shown that in the medium term it was impossible for the local people to assume ownership, for the community to assume ownership, because this was too costly given the long term investments. Proposals were made to the federal government. There were counter-proposals, but never any conclusion because the infrastructures are indeed too costly.
Given this state of affairs, I had a look at the Canada Marine Act, with the realization that the federal government had put into place for the Canadian port authorities, which are the major ports, a structure which retains the government as owner, although day to day administration falls to the local community.
This means huge municipal tax bills can be avoided and allows a certain competition between ports. This has made it possible to promote and market the ports.
However, the same thing was not done with the regional ports where the federal government in my opinion settled for a kind of clearing out of the existing facilities, closing those that were absolutely not operational, in order—and I believe it was in good faith in so doing—to allow the local communities to acquire facilities. But in practice, as I have said, community takeover was absolutely impossible.
As a result, the regional ports people thought it over, and I have my own ideas of what they concluded.
In the bill, I propose that a regional port may remain government property. It could be the federal government, but it could also be the Quebec government. The responsibility for managing the port would be delegated to local interests.
Since the introduction of this bill, the Quebec government has taken a very positive measure. It has told the federal government that it would be interested in negotiating to get a number of ports, such as those of Baie-Comeau, Matane, Rimouski, Cacouna and perhaps the port of Gaspé, for which negotiations with the federal government are already quite advanced.
This proposal from the Quebec government is interesting. It would achieve the same objective as the one that I pursue with the bill that I introduced. Indeed, my bill would allow for such transactions, because I anticipated that the provincial government, namely the Quebec government, could become the owner of the facilities and hand over the responsibility for managing these facilities to local authorities.
This situation is the result of what I call dropping the whole idea of a marine policy for Canada. For years and even decades, the federal government has neglected things, even though it is responsible for marine issues under the Constitution.
The hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière knows that better than anyone else. He fought an extraordinary battle to try to finally get a shipbuilding policy, but we are no further ahead. Despite his repeated attacks, his motions and his initiatives, we are still waiting for action from the federal government.
The same thing happened with the ports system. Under the constitution, this is a federal responsibility. But for years the government has been penny wise and pound foolish. When there was too much pressure in one sector, when partisan political pressure was strong, the government did the equivalent of slapping down a bit of asphalt. It applied just enough to calm public opinion to be able to win an election, but there was no comprehensive development strategy, just as there was no comprehensive strategy for managing waterways such as the St. Lawrence River.
I think that we must work very hard in this area. The proposal by the government of Quebec to negotiate in order to acquire the ports will be a step in the right direction, particularly as it is getting ready to introduce a marine policy. In the coming weeks, for the first time since confederation, there will truly be a marine policy to develop the St. Lawrence River, this magnificent waterway which allows goods to be transported in the best possible environmental conditions. This is much cheaper in the long run. It promotes sustainable development and will also increase communications along the whole length of the river, as well as bringing the north and south shores into contact.
We could reinvent many things, such as cabotage, and allow ferries specialized in transporting raw materials, cargo material. Other ferries could carry standard vehicles and foot passengers wanting to get to the other side. There are all sorts of possibilities.
However, since the federal government had renounced its responsibilities in this area, the government of Quebec, at the suggestion of Jacques Baril, the minister responsible for this area by virtue of his transport portfolio and a very realistic and down-to-earth man, saw this as a fantastic opportunity.
He visited the port personally and analyses were carried out of the potential projects for shore-to-shore transportation. All of this was connected to the immense economic development we have seen on the north shore with all the major companies there.
This wish of the government of Quebec will be translated into a marine policy that will be presented in the next few weeks. It is the outcome of consultation with all stakeholders. That is very important.
The people I referred to earlier worked in the various port development corporations and were part of the consultations, as were Quebec stevedores and marine carriers who are shipowners.
The outcome of all this will be the marine policy that is about to be announced. I believe it will be a historic moment for the use of the mighty river, an extraordinary rebirth that will allow the St. Lawrence to return to what it once was, a fantastic means of connection with other continents.
This week we were visited by a lobby of people involved in the Canadian marine industry. One of the things they explained to us was that a lot of shipping within the Americas is done by truck, but the main connection between Quebec and Canada's businesses and the rest of the world is by water. We now know how important transportation infrastructures are.
When it comes down to it, this is often what determines whether or not a product can be sold elsewhere. If savings can be achieved on shipping costs, then contracts get signed. There is a fairly important issue at stake and that is to know where the ships will pass. Is it not to our advantage to have the St. Lawrence used properly and the possibility of going in as far as Montreal, then using another means, including the railroad or truck, in order to maximize the impact of this industry?
If it is passed, this bill we are debating today will make a new form of ownership and participation possible for the community in port facilities. At the same time, this would mean flexibility so that a provincial government could acquire a number of facilities and give responsibility for management to local authorities.
This model is to some extent the result of the consensus there has been in recent years. I hope that the federal government will apply the same sensitivity to this issue it applied in the context of consultation on the Canada Marine Act. Initially, Canadian port authorities were supposed to become local owners and be subject to all municipal laws, including taxation.
Following consultation throughout Canada, the situation was corrected. The federal government retained ownership, but handed management over to local authorities. The results have been good. The model has proven itself. However, when it came to the regional ports, the government neglected to provide for this situation.
I think that the bill I am proposing would be a worthwhile amendment, an update of the Canada Marine Act. It would establish these situations and would give regional ports the opportunity to help the regions develop.
In my area, the port of Cacouna is an important infrastructure. A gas pipeline is being built and will, in the medium term, run from Sable Island through Rivière-du-Loup to the port, which could be used to export gas. The port could also be used to export other products, such as the powdered milk that is produced in Saint-Alexandre de Kamouraska and sold in North African countries.
The whole lumber export trade could also be redeveloped and a coastal shipping system could be set up. The link to the north shore would relieve some of the road transportation traffic in that area, and would prevent problems, particularly for the tourist industry.
Therefore, we must take a new look at the whole issue of river transportation to make it one of the elements of an integrated transportation policy, which I think would have been done long ago if transportation were the responsibility of one government only.
Let us look at what has happened in the past. Being responsible for roads, the provincial government invested money so that everything would work fine. The federal government was responsible for other things. In some cases, it was so far away that it did not necessarily make appropriate investments.
Had there been only one government, it could have ensured that its policy allowed intermodal transportation to maximize the use of the St. Lawrence River, which could have maximized the impact of ports, like the one at Cacouna, where the water is deep enough. This would have made the port a point of contact with the northeastern American states. This could have led to greater economic development than we now have.
In conclusion, I wish to say that this bill would contribute positively to better use of existing port infrastructures in Canada. I know that the regions are prepared to take over the management of these port facilities.
I believe that governments, such as the government of Quebec, would be able to carry the load of a comprehensive system. We could share use of all the ports, which would maximize benefits and enhance international marketing.
I hope that this House is listening and that members pass this bill to amend the Canada Marine Act. The economies of all regions of Quebec and of Canada would stand to benefit.
Canada Marine Act
February 8th, 2001 / 10:10 a.m.
Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-253, an act to amend the Canada Marine Act.
Mr. Speaker, this bill is intended to give greater viability to regional ports in the future and ensure that, in the context of the current policy on the divestiture of ports, people can have a structure in order to properly develop regional ports Canada wide. At present, these ports have no specific status under the Canada Marine Act.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Corrections And Conditional Release Act
February 8th, 2001 / 10:05 a.m.
Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I seek unanimous consent of the House to introduce Bill C-253, an act to amend the Canada Maritime Act, which could not be included in the order paper. It was supposed to be there today. I am therefore requesting leave of the House to introduce it today.