House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the amendment, which we support. It is only right that we do anything we can do to prevent the disasters that happen year after year.

It is probably very appropriate that we deal with such a bill and amendment at this time. We just witnessed a major spill off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador in relation to leakage from two of oil rigs, one a minor one to some extent, although no oil spill is minor, and the other a fairly major one. The drastic thing about it is the spill occurred because nobody was minding the shop and oil was leaking for quite some time before anybody noticed it. That is unforgiveable.

I listened to the parliamentary secretary try to give his voice around the names of some of the birds. It is quite evident that he did not do a lot of gunning on the cliffs of Baccalieu. We appreciate that because each part of the country has its distinct wildlife. Some of the birds that live on and off the Atlantic cost are entirely different from what we would find in other areas. However, year after year we see several thousand, in some cases hundreds of thousands, of migratory birds destroyed because of carelessness and by uncaring individuals.

Every now and then an accident happens. Undoubtedly, the recent oil spills from the oil rigs were accidents, but maybe unpreventable ones. That is not the case with the oil that is dumped by ships quite often. They do that intentionally to get rid of the old oil. They go out where they think nobody can see them and dump the oil.

Oil leaves a smooth sheen on the waters. Birds flock to smooth water. We often hear about putting oil on troubled waters. That is exactly what happens. The oil has a smoothing effect. Birds flock there, oil gets on their feathers, the feathers become matted, the birds cannot then keep the heat in their bodies and they freeze. Usually they head for shore.

I can remember growing up in the area where I still live. Hunting in the winter was extremely important. It was not a sport. It could be very dangerous and we had many accidents. Some people lost their lives trying to hunt from slippery cliffs. In those days people hunted for subsistence, and sea birds added tremendously to the food supply. At certain times during the winter, one would find hundreds of birds flocking to the shore covered with oil. Some had a small amount on them which at that stage had not hurt them. Others were completely and utterly coated. These birds suffered terrible deaths because of carelessness. Hundreds and in some cases hundreds of thousands were found. However, how many really were destroyed is something about which we do not know. With our huge coastlines, many would be eaten by predators at sea or even sink?

It is all well and good that the fines we will impose on these ships will be put into a fund that will help deal with the situation and with the environment generally. However, we are forgetting one thing. In order to levy a fine on any of the boats, we have to catch them. Then we have to prove they dumped the oil into the ocean. We have seen in recent years a number of occasions where boats have been discovered dumping oil. We have seen the skippers and owners of the boats being taken to courts. Many of them get away because it can not be proved that boat or its owner or the skipper is responsible for dumping that oil.

I suggest the members should look at one story of the Tecam Sea , which was tracked by satellite. Pictures showed oil flowing from the boat into the water. This was all the evidence we would ever want to have first-hand. Yet when the case came to court, it was dropped because of infighting between the Department of the Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Coast Guard. Perhaps the Department of Justice was involved also.

We have to get our act together. We need one department that will be responsible for the prosecution of these boats. We have to stop the infighting, the political games and favouritism of whom owns the ships. Unless we do that, it will not matter how much of a fine we impose or where the fine goes. There will be no charges against owners or skippers of the boats, and they will not be held responsible in the eyes of the court because we will be unable to prove those charges.

One concern we have is what is happening to our coast guard. We know full well over the years that funding to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Coast Guard has been cut tremendously. This has had a very negative effect on guarding our coasts, which protects us from this very thing and allows us to identify and prosecute.

One thing the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has done over the last few years is arrange overflights from the St. John's area by provincial airlines. They have done a tremendous job, with the best technology in the world, of not only watching foreign trawlers as they fish off our coast to see if they abuse the rules, but also identifying any laws that might be broken in relation to dumping at sea. Now we have seen again tremendous cutbacks and now the Department of Transport is responsible for the overflights originating from Moncton. There is a minuscule amount of flights compared to what there was earlier. Therefore, again that ability to spot oil on the water, which can easily be done by overflights, has now been lessened.

The bottom line is we support the amendment because it is a good one. The bill itself is a good one provided that the fines are heavy enough. However, unless we have the ability to go out there to identify and prosecute and unless we have the intestinal fortitude to stand up for what is right, then all is in vain.

Perhaps we will take the issue seriously and start to deal with this in the manner it should. We are doing a grave injustice to our wildlife, our coasts and to the people of our country by being so negligent in prosecuting those who do not care about these things.

Business of the House
Government Orders

December 13th, 2004 / 12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe you would find consent for the following motion. I move:

That when the House begins debate on Government Business No. 7 pursuant to Standing Order 53.1(3) later this day, no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be entertained by the Speaker.

Business of the House
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, as reported (with amendment) from the committee and of Motion No. 1.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise in this House today to speak on Bill C-15, to amend the legislation concerning migratory birds and marine ecosystems.

This bill was discussed at length in committee. We have always maintained that there was a basis for this legislation, and that it was vital that the government bring it in. Why? Because, in recent years, too many birds have been the victims of the irresponsibility of vessel owners who, often deliberately and intentionally, discharged oil into Canadian waters.

It is estimated that more than 300,000 birds were killed by discharges by vessel owners in recent years. It is important to realize that a single quarter is enough to kill a bird. So, given that fact, it was time for the government to assume its responsibility and introduce legislation. This bill may not necessarily provide all the guarantees.There will be inspections and monitoring and better control will have to be enhanced in the coming years. However, from a statutory point of view, it was clear that the current legislation had to be strengthened.

How? First, by increasing penalties for owners who are responsible for discharges. With this bill, we are quadrupling the penalty and fine that would be imposed on guilty owners. Shipowners who commit such offences could be ordered to pay a $1 million fine.

Second, we are trying to eliminate loopholes to the extent that we can by clearly specifying that, when an offence is committed, the owner is not the only one who could be charged, but also the employees. Why? We know the shipping industry in Canada and, of course, around the world. We are well aware that numbered companies are prevalent in this industry, thus making it increasingly difficult to identify responsible parties, find them and initiate proceedings against them.

Therefore, charges will no longer apply only to shipowners; indeed, the responsibility has been extended to ensure that there are individuals who are actually held responsible and who have to pay the fines set in the bill.

Third, we expand Canada's exclusive economic zone to beyond 200 miles. Why? Again, because major shipowners are too irresponsible. In the past, when they wanted to intentionally discharge hydrocarbons in our waters, they would go outside Canada's zone to do so. The bill will extend the control zone to beyond 200 miles and this will allow us to monitor shipowners' activities.

The bill also broadens the powers of Environment Canada when it comes to monitoring activities, and also arresting and detaining ships.

Until now, the Department of the Environment did not have enough authority to take action with regard to shipowners. So, the bill provides such guarantees so that Environment Canada will have the necessary authority to act.

I must remind the House of another aspect. Earlier, I was discussing and debating the sanctions set out in the bill, the quadrupling of fines, up to $1 million, for shipowners. However, experience to date has shown that, quite often, it is impossible to identify the guilty parties. The judiciary has the latitude to impose a penalty, but there was no minimum fine or sanction. The fine has been quadrupled, but only the maximum fine; there is no minimum fine. So the imposition of a penalty was left to the discretion of the judiciary.

The average fine previously imposed in Canada on shipowners who dumped oily waste, is only $30,000. Only a $30,000 fine for major Canadian or foreign shipowners, because they dumped significant amounts of oily waste in our waters, causing the death of over 30,000 birds per year. That is ridiculous.

When we compare the average in Canada to that of Great Britain or even the United States, believe it or not, we can see that the average fine in these two countries is between $400,000 and $500,000. In Canada, however, it was up to the judge to decide the monetary penalty, which, on average, was $30,000. What is $30,000 for a major Canadian shipping company like Canada Steamship Lines? That is nothing.

What did the Bloc Québécois do? Under the circumstances, my hon. colleague from Beauport—Limoilou decided to move an amendment. This was a first in the environmental field. This amendment establishes a minimum fine prescribed by law, so that the judges no longer have total discretion. A minimum will be prescribed by law: $500,000 or $100,000, depending on the type of vessel.

Why? Because the maximum is already provided for. But this amendment will ensure, first, that a fine is imposed, which was not necessarily the case with the previous system, second, that there will be a minimum fine and, third, that the fine imposed on the shipowner or shipping business will be three or four times higher than what has been the average in Canada until now.

This amendment put forward by the Bloc Québécois, by the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou, which is a first in the environmental field, has the support of the committee. I think we are on the right track.

Ultimately, this government bill and amendment are designed to ensure that all amounts collected through fines imposed on the various shipowners do not end up in the consolidated revenue fund, the government's general fund, but are deposited directly in a special fund, a conservation fund for migratory birds and the environment. This will be an environmental damages fund, a government proposal which I have the pleasure of supporting today. It is our intention to support this government amendment.

We have succeeded in going in the right direction with a more stringent bill, an amendment put forward by the Bloc Québécois to set a minimum fine and, today, a further amendment by the government to ensure that all fines received will go directly to the environmental damages fund, and not to the government's consolidated revenue fund.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague across the floor for his excellent speech and for his ability to concisely put together a number of things that have come together under Bill C-15.

Both the amendment and the bill say a great deal to me in terms of how this new government is meant to function. This legislation encourages the government to resist certain pressures it receives from some of its more corporate-minded friends. It also speaks to me of the ability, in this minority government, to put through amendments at committee stage that strengthen the bill and give it teeth.

Clearly in having environmental legislation in this country that is voluntary or is meant to be at the lowest common denominator, we find that industry time and again falls to that lowest common denominator and falls into the voluntary status. Industry does not rise to the place that we Canadians would like to hold it to. This is an example of reality versus perception.

For many years the Liberals have said during election campaigns that they were the protectors of the environment, that they were the great defenders of our environmental status. Yet what we have seen, as recently as last week, is that pollution numbers in this country are going up consistently. To me, this speaks to inefficiencies. When I see pollution coming out of a stack, when I see it leaving the tailpipe of a car, that speaks to me of a machine or an operation that is not working as well as it could or ought to. I am speaking about noise pollution, chemical pollution and all the rest.

Bill C-15 speaks very specifically to the intentional and deliberate pollution of our ocean waters. Clearly for many members in the House this is not the most riveting debate, yet at the same time this is an indicator of how we need to be considering our environment and starting to increase the seriousness of the discussion and the seriousness of the consequences for those companies that deliberately pollute the environment simply out of convenience or cost savings.

The most recent example is the oil spill off the east coast, which has been talked about. The Minister of Natural Resources has called it a tragedy. He called it a tragedy only because of the fact that at $50 a barrel it was a shame to have lost all that oil into our ocean. He is missing the point entirely of what it means to have a spill in this modern day and age.

Here is what we noticed when the thousands of ocean birds started washing up on shore. When the oil was tested it was found not to have come from the rig that had broken down but from ships that had passed through the spill. Captains of those ships decided that the best way to operate their ships was to go through a known spill, dump their bilge oil rather than go into port and properly take care of it, and then get away scot-free. This is the way business has come to operate.

While there are many strong and environmentally sound players out there, we know that the shipping industry also operates on the law of the high seas, which is based upon “if you can't catch us then you can't fine us”, and if they cannot be fined, then no one knows it has been done.

While I rise in support of the bill, the minimum fine precedent that my hon. colleague spoke of is very important when we look at other considerations in the environment. What is it when a company spills intentionally into a community's drinking water? What is it when an oil pipeline is not constructed properly and eventually leaks or breaks, contaminating an entire area? What is it when a car manufacturing company builds a car that it knows could be more efficient and decides not to?

At what point will we decide to use the power of this place, the power of legislation at hand, to encourage companies, politely yet forcefully, to act in ways that are more responsible, respectable and efficient, whether that company is a smelting operation, a car manufacturer or any such operation within our country?

We have forgotten a basic principle, which is that to operate a company within this country is not a right but a privilege. It is a privilege that is given by society as a collective whole. Whether it is a shoe making company, a company that makes lollipops or a company that makes oil tankers, we as a society decide that the business is permitted to operate within our borders.

When we get into the international shipping reality, as my hon. colleague mentioned, and fine a company like Canada Steamship Lines whose former owner is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and may spend $20,000 or $30,000 on Christmas cards in any given year, it is not serious. That suddenly becomes a cost of doing business. We need to stop externalizing the cost of doing business in this country. If a company is allowed to run its costs up the smokestack into the air or out into the water or into the oceans and not pay for those costs of doing business, then we as consumers are not paying properly for the things we acquire and we as a governing body are not upholding our responsibility to Canadians.

There is a second part to this. It arose in committee and I am looking forward to the actual and accurate piece of legislation. What happens when these fines are levied? In the past, environmental fines have been written off against a company's taxes, again as a part of doing business. A calculation is done on whether it is worth it to the company to pollute because the cost can simply be written off whatever taxes it is meant to pay to whatever level of government. It simply becomes an order of the day, a cold and calculated measurement, which we as society end up paying for twice. We pay for it first through the pollution in the environment and second through taxes and revenues that do not accrue to roads and health care and all those things our tax money is meant to go toward.

As for the birds that we have been talking about, a lot of people visit the ocean very rarely so they see few of these waterfowl, which mean very little to them, but I have been considering them as an indicator species for the way we are treating our environment. They are visible. They are seen and known. People see them when they wash up. As has been mentioned many times in the House, it does not take much, just a small drop, on the body of an ocean-going bird to kill it, to ruin its ability to live and survive. These are simply the indicators, the things that we are able to see. The effects of pollution, whether it is in a child's asthma or increased cancer rates around a smelter, are much harder to detect and connect.

Finally, after many years of trying, it was in a minority government that it was pushed. A government was able to take recommendations and changes from the minority parties. That is what pushed this bill through. Hopefully it will pass in the Senate and get royal assent.

Let us look again at the shipping organizations. This is probably a clear message to them as well: simply lobbying their corporate friends in business and friends within the ruling government of the day, making sure that they are well taken care of, is no longer enough. These corporations actually have to make their case to the Conservatives, the Bloc and the NDP. They actually have to make their case, in this instance like many of the non-government organizations did. Clearly they made a better case for having something like a minimum fine, which, as has been said already, is a precedent in Canadian environmental law. We have finally said that if businesses do this and get caught, they will be paying a minimum fine of $500,000.

We do have some concerns about where this fine ends up. If this were to end up hitting the workers on board the ships, who did not make the decision, who were not involved or did not have the power to stop the bilge dumping, we would have a problem with that. We need to go to the top of the food chain and find out who has the money and who is making the decisions to operate their business in such a way.

The only other major concern we have with this is the inability to actually enforce this piece of legislation. I come from a coastal riding. We have put together legislation with teeth. We have put together a piece of legislation that is going to fine businesses and cause them to reconsider their options when they are not sure what to do with all their extra oil, but the second part of it is our actual ability to catch these guys.

If the Coast Guard in my community and my riding is representative of how we are funding our Coast Guard across this country, we have a long way to go in getting to the point where we are actually able to see this happening, catch the people aboard the ships and make sure that the fines stick. This government has been consistent year in and year out in its lack of funding and support for our Canadian Coast Guard.

We have one of the largest coasts in the entire world. With the effects of global warming, we are soon going to be looking at the possible opening of the Northwest Passage. We have absolutely no ability to enforce our sovereignty in that area. We have seen this just recently with a number of European nations starting to make some claims about some of our northern islands. As preposterous as this sounds to Canadians, that we could lose territory simply by not being there, it is becoming a reality.

As the ice starts to break up more and more and ships are trying to get through on a more consistent basis, sovereignty comes into question, because we have absolutely no ability to actually be out on the water watching the polluters, the shipping traffic and the submarines of other countries go through our coastal waters in the north. Certainly our submarines cannot go out there anymore.

We need to start supporting our Coast Guard in a serious way. If we are actually going to enforce what we think is good legislation and a good amendment to that legislation, we need to at some point get serious about the notion that we have enormous, beautiful and resilient coasts that need our protection.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is the House ready for the question?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion No. 1 agreed to)

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Minister of the Environment

moved that the bill, as amended, be concurred in at the report stage and read the second time.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Telefilm Canada Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Outremont
Québec

Liberal

Jean Lapierre for the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Status of Women

moved that Bill C-18, an act to amend the Telefilm Canada Act and another act, be read the third time and passed.