House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent to revert to presenting reports from interparliamentary delegations?

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

December 14th, 2004 / 10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson St. Croix—Belleisle, NB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 31, I have the honour, on behalf of the Canada-United States Interparliamentary Group, to present to the House, in both official languages, two reports.

The first is a report on the Canadian delegation to the agricultural tour for U.S. congressional staffers held in Calgary, Alberta, from September 21 to 23, 2004.

The second is a report of the Canadian delegation to the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce Atlantica Prosperity meeting held in Bangor, Maine, from September 30 to October 1, 2004.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

The chair has received a notice of motion pursuant to Standing Order 52 from the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, under Standing Order 52, I wish to request that an emergency debate be held this evening regarding the absolutely disastrous situation facing the textile industry.

In support of my request, I would remind the Chair that, yesterday, 800 workers from the municipality of Huntingdon, in the riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry, that is 75% of the work force in this municipality, learned that they were losing their jobs on a permanent basis, either immediately or in the spring.

Thousands of jobs are currently at stake in Quebec, and the impact is very great. I will simply remind the House that there are 600 such jobs in Trois-Rivières, 600 more in Drummondville and another 800 yesterday in Huntingdon. Quebec is experiencing an economic crisis, as is the rest of Canada. Altogether, the number of jobs located in Canada is about 75,000.

So, I ask for agreement of the House to hold this emergency debate. Before we permanently and prematurely adjourn for the holidays, I believe it is important for members of this House to take a few hours to debate, with the government, the thousands of jobs that have been lost, as well as all those that will be lost shortly.

This is an extremely urgent matter. It is the result of a tragic decision that is affecting, among many others, the municipality of Huntingdon, where 75% of the work force is being permanently laid off overnight.

I think that, in keeping with the holiday spirit, parliamentarians will surely agree to spend a few hours longer in the House to hold this debate on the textile industry. That seems logical to me. We cannot deny this opportunity to those who have just learned the worst news anyone can get 15 days before Christmas, in other words, that they have lost their job and come to the end of their career. We want to question the government about this. No measures have been implemented yet to help these industries suffering from the loss of hundreds of jobs.

Mr. Speaker, I am confident that you will allow this emergency debate to be held, given the extreme urgency of the situation and also the fact that the House will not be able to consider this matter again before the end of January, when the House resumes. I am confident that the Chair will agree that our work, which normally would have continued until Friday, can at least continue until later this evening. In many cases, it is a matter of survival for the people of Huntingdon and others in the industry. We must question the government before the holidays.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Speaker

I must point out to the House that a debate on this issue, as well as a motion in concurrence were already included in the report tabled in this House by the Standing Committee on Finance on November 30. The importance of the issue raised by the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean is obvious. I think I will have to take this under advisement. I will get back to the House later today with a ruling on the request just received.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Avalon
Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

R. John Efford for the Minister of the Environment

moved that Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, be read the third time and passed.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Charlottetown
P.E.I.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the House today and add my comments to those already voiced about Bill C-15, this important initiative that would help prevent the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of seabirds every year across our coasts.

As has been indicated by my colleagues, I too am seeking to prevent the deaths of murres, puffins, great black-backed gulls and many other species of seabirds every winter as a result of the intentional or negligent illegal release of oil from some ships into marine waters.

In amending the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act as proposed in Bill C-15, which is before us for third reading, we would be making important improvements to the enforcement regime in marine waters and ultimately preventing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds.

In particular, Bill C-15 would allow us to increase the ability to enforce provisions in these two seminal pieces of environmental legislation in Canada's exclusive economic zone. It would enhance the capacity of these two laws to protect our species and our environment and, at the end of the day, to protect us all.

Achieving the sustainability of our environment is why we have worked so hard on environmental legislation in this country. This is why we have led the way on international efforts and are known for that leadership. This is why we need to act now to deal with the ongoing pollution of our waters that threatens many species of seabirds. We would be able to put significant fines in place that would stop the illegal discharge of oily bilge waters from ships, which is threatening natural resources in our coastal waters.

The dumping of oil into water is avoidable. Many ships travel through Canadian waters far from the sight of land. It has not been easy to determine which ships are responsible for the many discharges of oil into marine waters. For this reason, some ship operators who pollute may think they will never get caught.

Furthermore, without laws providing for fines that are proportionate to the environmental cost, some members of the shipping industry may believe it costs less to risk the fine than it does to discharge their oily bilge waters before they arrive in port. We need to stop such practices.

Bill C-15 would increase the maximum fines for such pollution offences so that they are more in keeping with those of the United States.

The result should be that ships that pass through Canadian waters to dump oily bilge waters before proceeding to U.S. waters, where enforcement has been much stricter and fines much higher, would be deterred from dumping illegally into our marine environment.

Bill C-15 would put in place other provisions to ensure valid ships' records and to require equipment to avoid environmental pollution.

We can make sure that some of the worst perpetrators discover that they cannot get away with dumping oily bilge waters off Canadian coasts any longer without suffering consequences for those actions.

Not only does the Government of Canada intend to improve surveillance through satellite technology, the fines available upon passage of Bill C-15 will be a strong deterrent to illegal action.

After careful deliberations over Bill C-15, the Standing Committee on the Environment strongly supported the proposed bill with one amendment. I want to take this opportunity to thank all members of the Standing Committee on the Environment for all the work that they put into this legislation.

We heard my hon. colleague speak of the minimum fines of $300,000 on summary conviction and $500,000 on an indictable offence that would be imposed if ships over 5,000 tonnes violate the amended Migratory Birds Convention Act and pollute illegally.

Large ships over 5,000 tonnes should be expected to have modern and effective oil management systems. Shipping, as everyone in the House is aware, is big business, and the non-compliant companies that operate large ships must respect the polluter pays principle and provide the means to reduce or eliminate polluting activities involving their vessels. Those who do not abide by the rules will be penalized, should be penalized and ought to be penalized.

Bill C-15 deserves support in the House. I also urge support for the amendment by the Minister of Environment that the minimum fines for polluting ships over 5,000 tonnes be deposited directly to the environmental damages fund. This amendment will ensure that the proceeds of fines will be directed to the restoration of the damaged environment.

Fines in the case of ships exceeding 5,000 tonnes will go toward cleaning up the problem that was created in the first place. I think we all want fines to be used to reduce environmental damage. I think we want those who pollute our water and kill our birds to have to pay for the crime in ways that will have a direct benefit to our environment.

The option is consistent with the Government of Canada's philosophy of ensuring environmental sustainability, not only through its own funding but through the fines paid by those who threaten that sustainability through pollution activities.

As we can see, the committee's amendment and good work are reinforced with this further refinement, but we can put the fines imposed on floating vessels of more than 5,000 tonnes to work where they are needed. It is good policy work, good legislative work and also good practice.

Members will notice that I am referring to amendments to existing laws. Many of us here worked on these laws and were proud to enter our names in their official support.

This means that we are not creating burdens for the shipping industry and we are not changing course. Quite the opposite. With Bill C-15, we are showing that we believe in what we have on the statute books and in Canadian commitments within international agreements.

The bills shows, nevertheless, that we are ready to improve federal wildlife protection statutes and are willing to act accordingly in the best interests of migratory seabirds and cleaner marine waters. This approach adheres to the goal of protecting and maintaining biodiversity, which in fact supports human existence.

What more can I say? The value of Bill C-15 speaks for itself. We would be putting in place measures that will help achieve a robust environment as essential to a competitive economy and thus to securing Canada's place in the world. In acting today, we are endorsing that vision and giving it strength.

Bill C-15 provides the means to enforce the high standards we have set, standards of which we are very proud, standards that will make us Canadians. We find these standards in our laws. We have committed to them in international agreements. We have committed to ourselves, to our children and to their children that we will conserve biodiversity and protect our natural heritage.

For the reasons I have just recited and for the other reasons that were referred to in the previous speeches given in support of this legislation, I urge all members to support this bill.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member talk about what this bill is going to do. As we have said before, we certainly support the bill.

I know that increasing fines will be a detriment to some degree. I am not sure exactly what the maximum fine is at present, or I do not know exactly what the largest fine imposed to date has been. I know they have been inconsequential. But I believe that if the member were to ask the Prime Minister he could probably tell him, because I believe it was one of his ships that got the heaviest fine issued so far.

I will ask the member one simple question. Does he think that simply by increasing fines we are going to stop the pollution of our waterways?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased my learned friend is supporting the legislation. I listened to his speech yesterday and it certainly is an important issue, not only for his province but also for my province.

He asked the question about whether the fines are large enough. My answer is that they probably are not. He asked whether they will eliminate oil pollution in Pacific and Atlantic waters. The answer, unfortunately, is probably no. The other question on whether they will be a help, my answer is, yes.

When we have fines in the magnitude of $300,000 and $500,000, and when our rules and regulations are in sync with what we see on the Atlantic coast in the United States, that is so important so there is no benefit to doing anything wrong in Canadian waters. This is an important part of the legislation but the fines, the mandatory surveillance and the satellite imaging, when everything is looked at in perspective, the legislation, although it certainly would not eliminate oil pollution on our coastal waters, it would be a big step forward, which is why I, like my learned friend, will be supporting the legislation.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Calgary South Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the members opposite and particularly my colleague from Newfoundland who asked the last question. Incidentally, the answer to the member's question is that the fines are around $20,000 to $25,000 now. The new minimum in the bill proposed by the Conservatives would be $500,000. I will get into that, along with some history of the bill and the reason that it is before the House.

This was first brought to the public's attention in a major way by the minister of the environment from the province of Newfoundland and a number of citizens from Newfoundland several years ago.

The Conservative Party first asked questions in the House on the subject in about 1996. It was followed up by a private members' bill that came to be known as the Mills private bill, after the Conservative member for Red Deer. He introduced his bill after he heard the concerns of many Canadians when they saw the plight of up to 300,000 birds a year being lost to oil spills and the desecration of our coastlines.

The member for Red Deer pursued his bill but the government took no action until the day before the last general election was called when it in fact put forward Bill C-34. Bill C-34 received a lot of discussion but there was no chance of enactment of the legislation because an election was called and the bill died.

The bill was raised again as Bill C-15 in this Parliament and actively pursed by the aforementioned member for Red Deer and the environment committee. This is a Conservative motion and a conservative bill that was adopted by the government and we are very pleased.

There are a number of reasons that we need this bill. It is not only about the tourism, the ecotourism, the fishing industry on both our coasts and the residents who live on those coasts. It is about why the oil spills and the dumping of oily bilge water happens in the first place.

Frankly, I think many of the larger shipping companies, some of which were alluded to by my colleague from Newfoundland just a moment ago, would rather dump oily bilge water into Canadian waters so they can sail into U.S. ports clean. Why? It is simply because the United States has much higher fines and the cost of legally removing the bilge water once in port is very expensive. If the fines in Canada were $20,000 to $25,000 they would actually save money by dumping the oily water, that is if they were caught in the first place because the Canadian surveillance and enforcement was so weak.

I appreciate the acknowledgement of the Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Oceans a moment ago that in fact the Canadian surveillance and enforcement has been so weak.

I want us to be clear on the problem. If these ships were to enter into U.S. ports and they were found to be spilling oily bilge water, they would face enormous fines. The likelihood of them being caught is very high because the American surveillance is much higher than the surveillance in Canadian waters.

We had the recent example of the Terra Nova spill off Newfoundland where ships actually sailed into the oil slick and dumped their oily bilge water to be undetected as they sailed through Canadian waters. If they are not going to get caught this practice will continue.

We are very pleased to support the bill and particularly the Conservative amendment that would raise the minimum fines to $500,000 for ships over 5,000 tonnes. This might seem like a lot of money but it has to be a lot of money in order to be a deterrent so these major vessels do not dump in Canadian waters. We have become a dumping ground for oily bilge from vessels that want go into U.S. ports clean.

The Conservative amendment was passed by the committee with a seven to three vote, which emphasizes the commitment of the environmental committee to the cleaning up of our waters and the prevention of these oily bilge dumpings and spills in our waters.

I am pleased that we also received an amendment when the party opposite became involved in this bill and supported it. The fines that will be imposed for dumping in our waters will go directly to cleanup and to a damages fund to mitigate the damages caused by this oily bilge that is spilled into Canadian waters. Hopefully this will prevent the deaths of so many birds.

I wish Canadians could see the magnificent birds that are lost. It is quite tragic. This is another reason that we are so strongly supportive of the bill.

I would suggest that another major factor in the bill is the enforcement and the fact that we need to increase surveillance and enforce the new laws in the legislation. We have the technology. We have RADARSAT that can follow ships. We have the technology to detect from which vessel the oily bilge was dumped, as was the case in the Terra Nova spill when we found there was bilge and oil in that slick in addition to that which came from the initial ship as a result of people dumping their oil in the middle of an already existing oil slick.

I am pleased the bill would increase fines, increase enforcement and increase the surveillance of the ships so we can prevent Canada from becoming, or continuing to be, a dumping ground for bilge oil.

I am pleased that the Conservative Party raised the motion. It is a tribute to the member for Red Deer who persevered in this matter on behalf of our colleagues on the coast, particularly in Newfoundland, and we are pleased to support the bill.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, our party is delighted to have been involved to some degree in the motion because it does strengthen the bill. However the bill itself only goes so far. It would increase fines, which, without any no doubt, would be a deterrent and would perhaps make people think twice before dumping bilge oil, in particular.

Over the years most ship owners have known there was little chance of them getting caught so it did not matter to them. In this day and age, when we have good, on shore dumping facilities and we have the technology to greatly reduce pollutants in the waters that boats discharge, if they are installed properly on the boats, there should be little excuse for the major dumping of oil into our waters.

I would just like the members comments on the fact that on one hand we are increasing fines, but on the other hand the government is cutting back on overflights, which has happened. It is also reducing the number of vessels, as has been done in the east coast, which ply our waters, such as fishery patrol boats and the Coast Guard, knowing that our radar system is so poorly maintained, particularly on the west coast, that we cannot do a proper job.

On one hand, we are doing cosmetics and on the other hand, where it really counts, we are seeing major cutbacks. How can we ever solve a problem unless we stop talking about it and instead start doing something about it?

The other thing we see is the infighting within the present government. The Department of Justice, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are fighting over jurisdiction. We saw one major case of the Tecam Sea which should have been a hard and fast case against illegal dumping at sea. Every bit of evidence we would think we would need was there but because of infighting among departments, the case was dropped before it went to court and another boat sails away free and our waters are polluted.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Calgary South Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl has hit the nail on the head. He is a man who understands his constituency and knows the problems that exist off the east coast of Canada. He is bang on. The problems do continue with regard to turf wars between government departments. There does not seem to be any coordination at all.

I would suggest that these fines should be directed into a damage fund to mitigate damages caused by these oil spills. It seems to me, and I think the hon. member would agree, that we could also increase enforcement and surveillance off our coast. There is no point in having this legislation if we are not going to be able to detect these ships that are causing the problem.

It is bad enforcement. It is about turf wars between government departments. This has to stop. I appreciate the member's question because this is exactly where the problem lies now. We have resolved the fines issue; it is now about enforcement. It is about the government getting its act together. We must get these departments working together to enforce and hopefully prosecute these polluters.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am especially pleased to speak toBill C-15, which the Bloc Québécois supports, since we moved an amendment to this bill. This makes the bill all the more interesting to us.

A number of points need to be clarified. I was listening to my hon. colleague from Charlottetown congratulating himself on the amendment and the fact that the best amendments have several fathers. It certainly sounds like chicken droppings have all of a sudden become chicken soup. Just a moment ago, the Liberals were busy patting themselves on the back about the amendment, saying how interesting it was, so much so in fact that an amendment was included to have the fines received deposited in an environmental damages fund. But it should be pointed out that, at the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, all but one Liberal member, who abstained, voted against this very amendment.

I have seen things change quickly in the past and, once again, I have seen that chicken droppings have turned into chicken soup, and very good soup at that. I guess it would be more pleasant for marine wildlife to be swimming in this chicken soup than in the waters available to them and the migratory birds.

This legislation is fundamental and important, it has unfortunately been too long in coming. Prior to this legislation, as soon as a vessel got outside the 12 mile limit, it was beyond reach. There was also some administrative carelessness, as out of an estimated 2,000 instances of discharge in 2000, five went to court. In 2001, the total was four and in 2002, only three out of 2000.

So this new legislation will have more teeth, and will extend the zone from the 12-mile limit to the 200 mile economic limit. This is a very good thing, but there is still the major issue of application.

The amendment proposed by the Bloc Québécois is a first as far as Canadian environmental law is concerned. I think it would be worthwhile citing it, as it is so fundamental. The Liberals fought in committee, but suddenly find it is wonderful. This is the amendment I tabled in committee:

That Bill C-15, in Clause 9, be amended by adding after line 11 on page 13 the following: “In the case of an offence under section 5.1 that is committed by a vessel of 5,000 tonnes deadweight or over,the fine imposed under paragraph (1.1)(a) shall not be less than $500,000.”

In plain language, this means the matter will go to court. If there is a guilty verdict, the judge cannot impose a fine of less than $500,000.

The fine—

that is, the fine imposed under paragraph (b)

The fine imposed under paragraph (1.1) shall not be less than $100,000.

In fact, the bill deals with a procedure of summary conviction. So the fine is a minimum of $100,000 for the fast track procedure and $500,000 after a full trial. That is what this amendment is all about. It was adopted thanks to the support of the Conservatives, who had brought in a similar but less complete amendment, and thanks to the support of the NDP, but no thanks to the Liberal members of the committee, who opposed it. I think that things need to be brought out into the open. A spade must be called a spade. A government trying to pirate something is a government trying to pirate something.

So we have a bill here that has been improved. As I was saying, it is a first in Canadian environmental law. It is rather particular. You need to know that, in Canada, not only was there no minimum fine in the legislation until now, but polluters could and still can deduct their fines from their taxes. People do not realize that. We are in the realm of the polluter payee. We have seen it in the oil industry in Western Canada in many regards. There is a bill to correct this state of affairs. I do not hope that there will be any discharges, but if there are, the perpetrators must be punished, and a rehabilitation fund must be established. That is important.

That said, I grew up along the St. Lawrence. My riding of Beauport—Limoilou is along the St. Lawrence in a place where the river is not very wide. In my constituency, there is the baie de Beauport. They want to invest a lot of money there to make it a four season destination. That is very important. Some major municipal investments have been made to treat waste water so that, at certain times of the year, it is even possible to swim right in the middle of Quebec City. In this baie de Beauport, you can do water sports and various other things.

Just one discharge could compromise for years the use of a beach in the heart of a city in areas where working people live.

Preserving the St. Lawrence and its shoreline, prosecuting and sentencing people who sail around in what we call “rustbuckets” where I come from, that is to say, ships that are often not seaworthy and could leak discharge at any time, that is something that is close to my heart. It is important.

In another professional life, I worked on establishing Stratégies Saint-Laurent, which is a group of organizations, firms and individuals interested in the St. Lawrence, all along the St. Lawrence, the Saguenay and the baie des Chaleurs. They are consultation committees. They are called ZIPs, priority intervention zones, and each has its own ZIP committee. They were inspired by the famous hot spots in the Great Lakes. These committees are interested in having action plans to clean up the St. Lawrence, make it accessible, and conserve sensitive wetlands threatened by the artificialization of the banks and by discharges.

For me, the St. Lawrence River is not an abstraction. The St. Lawrence is the waterway that was used by my ancestors to populate Quebec. It is extremely important. This legislation can protect the St. Lawrence. I proposed an amendment—and I am saying this without false modesty—which, in my opinion, is historic, because it will truly encourage people not to pollute anymore.

Currently, when people get caught, the average fine in Canada is $30,000. We are talking here about two convictions out of 2,000 violations. In terms of percentage, we have to use decimals and zeros before the decimals. In other words, Canada was a haven for polluting freighters, or for shipowners who hardly care. This bill will allow us to prosecute companies, whether it is the Canada Steamship Lines or others, that are bad corporate citizens and make them pay for the damage they cause and for what they do.

Therefore, this is extremely important. We were imposing fines of $30,000 Canadian, while the average fine in the United States for similar violations is $509,000 U.S. In Great Britain, in the United Kingdom, it is $411,000 U.S. Such are the average fines that are imposed. This is why making a little detour via Canada to get rid of bilge water and to empty out the tanks was a bargain. Big deal. It is nothing to take a trip at night, in the fog, to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where surveillance is almost impossible and rarely done, and pollute. Anyone caught can simply write a cheque for a small amount, include it to his tax return, and bingo. These things must no longer happen and must no longer be tolerated.

The Bloc Québécois supports the bill. However, we are well aware of the government's ineffectiveness and we hope that an agreement can be reached between departments to truly implement this bill, so that it does not become yet another nice piece of legislation based on interesting principles, but never implemented.

I am happy to see that curiously, as things have now turned out, the Liberal members of the committee have acquired some wisdom, because I feared that the amendment I had proposed would not take effect, or, that its effect would be delayed through legislative tricks, to protect unknown parties.

I can see that this is not a likely after all. I have seen in this House an amendment passed by committee to which the government tried to propose a counter-amendment. I believe that was the case with the amendment saying that the security programs—I do not remember the bill number—had to respect provincial jurisdictions. This amendment had been adopted by the committee and then they tried to withdraw it in a rather stupid way.

When the majority in a committee adopts a motion or amendment, we know that this House also represents that majority. Consequently, I believe that this government is enjoying being humbled a bit, and is starting to like it, perhaps becoming a bit masochistic. This is not the first time such behaviour has been corrected in this House. It will not be the last time for the minority government.

We are not doing it in order to humiliate anyone; we are doing it with the goal of better serving our citizens, the people of Quebec. By the same stroke, we think we are also serving the interests of people in the rest of Canada.

When we introduce such ideas, it forces the government to act. The government has some habits of arrogance, inefficiency and spending in sectors where they do not have jurisdiction. Thus, we believe we are improving things and doing our work.

Honestly, as this session ends—my first session—I am particularly proud of the Bloc Québécois caucus. They have been consistent, thorough and very hard-working, on the employment insurance issue, denouncing interference, amending the throne speech, and even achieving an eventual vote on the missile defence shield. The Bloc Québécois has ardently defended the values of Quebeckers, namely honesty and integrity. That is something grand. We have also introduced private members' bills. My colleague, the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles has done extraordinary work. But I do not want my other colleagues to be jealous. Every one of the Bloc Québécois MPs has done a truly remarkable job.

I am proud to belong to a caucus that has been working hard in committees come hell or high water. Recently, through the Subcommittee on the Employment Insurance Funds, we pushed for an independent fund and won. It is fantastic. I believe the unemployed expected nothing less from us.

Unfortunately the fact that the government went ahead and changed the EI premiums without any consultation and without addressing the fundamental unfairness of the system for first-time contributors shows its arrogance. It is clueless.

I now go back to Bill C-15. When one fights tooth and nail in committee claiming that a minimum fine for polluters is not desirable, one wonders who is being defended: the environment or certain polluters? And then we are told it is common sense. It is easy to see why, during the most recent election, voters were reluctant to trust a government whose ethical sense is blowing in the wind. People are fed up with this lack of moral fibre. They want their elected representatives to stand up for values, be consistent and not promise one thing in Newfoundland and another in Vancouver. The Liberals are disappointing everyone with their lack of substance and principles.

Again, the history of Bill C-15 might not be that glorious. Its predecessor, Bill C-34, was put forward in a rush before the election to appear proactive after years of doing nothing. Sometimes very good films are made in pain with actors fighting on the set. In this case we believe we will end up with a good movie after all even though it was directed by a bad government.

We support Bill C-15 even though its wording might have been made simpler by other people. We are still having doubts as to its enforcement though. We are not convinced the government's right hand knows what its left hand is doing. We hope the necessary resources will be put in place.

We know there have been several initiatives. For example, in Newfoundland, there is the I-Stop program that uses a satellite to track oil spills and eventually identify the nearest ship that might be responsible for them. Its interesting but not very effective at night.

Real resources are going to be needed. My colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and myself will push for progress reports on the implementation of the bill. We will not let it quietly drift along only to find out several years later that nothing has changed.

A total of 30,000 seabirds die each year in the Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the same number of birds that died as a result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It is a huge number. We must act and take whatever measure is necessary to monitor our waters. The legislation must be enforced. Also, vessel owners, captains and all seamen must be made aware of their social responsibility. Should they be found guilty of neglect or pollution, they must be liable to real and significant fines as a disincentive to pollute and an incentive to protect the environment.

This is what we want to achieve with this legislation that we have enhanced.

I want to thank the Conservatives for their cooperation. We put forward a more complete amendment than theirs. They recognized it and approved our amendment. I want to thank the Liberals for their belated conversion, despite all the bad faith and fearmongering we saw in committee. Still, they converted.

I believe that this bill, this Christmas gift, if put into effect, would protect our ecosystems, not only seabirds, but all marine ecosystems. At some point in their lives, all marine species—cod, halibut, smelt or crab—go through the larval stage and live as plankton, and if there is an oil slick above them, it would kill millions of future cod, halibut and turbot. So, this legislation is economic. It ensures preservation and sustainable development. It protects migratory birds and ecosystems.

The Bloc Québécois has considered and enhanced this bill. For the first time and hopefully not the last time, we have included tough minimum fines in a Canadian environmental act. Soon, we hope, these fines will no longer be tax deductible. Their being so is both outrageous and immoral.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-15 at this stage. This is a bill aimed at improving the situation concerning oil discharges, in the Atlantic in particular. This bill, comprised of some 45 pages, and intended to bring about some considerable improvements, has had the support of the Bloc Québécois in recent weeks and months.

Before going into further detail, I should point out that the House of Commons, during a previous session, had already dealt with a bill that was, to all intents and purposes, identical. That bill was C-34, which was essentially intended to bring about the changes we are looking at today.

As well, hon. members need to be reminded of how the government used its Liberal majority in the parliamentary committee at that time to ram the bill down the members' throats, to force them to endorse it, when the Bloc Québécois would have liked to have seen witnesses called in order for it to be improved upon.

I recall certain events during that session when the LIberals in this House simply made up their minds to push aside all essential debates on this matter. I was totally amazed when we came to examine Bill C-15 in parliamentary committee, where we had to really push to get witnesses allowed to appear. This was simply rejected out of hand by numerous committee members, on the grounds that what they would be telling us we had heard already, that it was just the same old, same old. Yet hon. members must keep in mind that the previous committee on the environment and sustainable development had never heard any witnesses on this aspect of Bill C-34.

We focused all our efforts and will on an in-depth study of the bill, not on delaying tactics. In fact, we improved it instead—I will go further into that shortly—by making the time for amendments to be proposed. That time was gained, in part through the efforts of my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou and myself, in order to come up with the bill as we have it before us today.

Essentially, the purpose of this bill is to correct the way or to provide more powers on the way the act must be enforced in Canada. It is aimed at increasing fines and penalties imposed on vessel owners who decide to be totally irresponsible when it comes to protecting the environment. It must be noted that this bill is aimed first at increasing, and I would even say at quadrupling fines currently imposed for oil discharges, particularly in the Atlantic region. It is aimed at quadrupling and increasing by up to $1 million fines imposed on a vessel that deliberately discharges oil.

Moreover, and I will get back to this, concerning sanctions, the issue is not simply increasing them or establishing maximum amounts. The Bloc Québécois felt it essential that we establish a minimum threshold concerning sanctions and that we no longer let a judge alone decide sanctions. I will get back to this, because in parliamentary committee, we studied an amendment, which was introduced by my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou and was agreed to by the committee, that is precisely aimed at establishing a minimal threshold for penalties and fines when vessels and owners commit an offence.

In addition, the bill tries to maximize our chances of finding the culprits. Indeed, in the marine industry, it is quite often difficult, obviously, to identify vessel owners. Why? Because it is quite often difficult, when enforcing the act, to identify the culprits. That is why this industry has several numbered businesses. This is one of the industries where we find a significant number of numbered businesses, making it difficult for the government to enforce the act and to identify the culprits.

The bill seeks to ensure that the legislator will be able to lay charges not only against the owners but also against the employees of the company operating the ship caught polluting. Consequently, the bill quadruples the fines and provides the means by which to identify the guilty parties by attempting to target specifically the individual responsible.

Furthermore, the bill seeks to expand the area over which the legislation applies. This would mean that primary enforcement officers would be able to inspect and search polluting ships in Canadians ports and within a zone of over 200 nautical miles offshore.

Why is this so important? Because all too often, polluting ships discharge oily waste outside the area covered by the current legislation, which creates major loopholes for polluters. The new legislation will allow us to ensure that the guilty parties are punished. This bill seeks to expand the area covered by the legislation in order to eliminate obvious contradictions.

Finally, this bill expands the powers of Environment Canada to inspect, arrest and detain ships. I insist on this point, because, all too often in this House, we have seen the passing of bills that seek to increase the authority and weight of legislation. However, quite often, their enforcement leaves something to be desired. We end up with stiffer laws, but they are not enforced.

I am pleased to see that the bill will increase the enforcement powers regarding arrests and inspections. We are, however, in a position today to make the solemn commitment that the legislation will be enforced and that it will not be like other bills passed in this Parliament, which ultimately sought only to create legislation but without any real enforcement.

Consequently, we are quite pleased, but it is like the saying goes: we will have to wait and see. That is somewhat how the legislation ends, because that is the last of the four points I wanted to make. Naturally, the legislation needs to be improved, but will it truly be enforced? I have my doubts.

However, we were not content with simply passing the bill. I will continue to be vigilant in committee. I remind the hon. members that when a bill is introduced, it is important to take the time to study it. It is not just a matter of listening to the minister and then passing it, clause by clause, at the same committee meeting. This is a totally irresponsible attitude, especially when witnesses indicate that they intend to appear.

We have a responsibility. Even if the witnesses themselves or their testimony does not really suit us, it is our responsibility to listen to them. Then we can decide whether to change the legislation or not. This period of time that we took together permitted the adoption of an amendment on minimum penalties. That is a first, a historic moment.

If we had not taken the time to think, this amendment probably would not have been adopted, and we would not have been able to introduce it in this House. The Chair would have told the hon. members quite rightly that they had had an opportunity to make the said changes in committee. But it was not the case.

I am proud today to remind the hon. members that my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou got an amendment adopted in the in committee to have a minimum fine of $500,000 or $100,000 imposed, depending on the type of ship. This is a first in environmental matters. We should definitely be proud of it. What we are also proud of is the fact that the committee supported this amendment.

As I reminded the hon. members yesterday in this House, we also supported an amendment introduced by the government to ensure that the sums collected will not go to the consolidated revenue fund or to fund all sorts of sometimes questionable government activities. A fund will be created into which the money for the damages will be paid. We have a guarantee that the amounts that are collected will go into a compensation fund in case of discharges or other catastrophes.

We therefore have an imperfect bill. However, in the current situation, we managed to do things quickly, to be sure, but very effectively. As a result, this bill will return today to the Senate. On this side of the House, we have always hoped to proceed quickly so that the essence, the spirit of the bill, namely protecting birds, is implemented as soon as possible. We had to make these changes, which were necessary. Greater penalties were needed for people who decide to be totally irresponsible where the environment is concerned.

Today, I am back with the Bloc amendment. What we are about to vote on is quite unusual. We have to remember that the average fine set by Canadian judges for oil discharges is $30,000. This is peanuts for big corporations responsible for an oil discharge, like Canada Steamship Lines, for instance, or other multinationals.

As I said before, a drop the size of a quarter is enough to kill a bird. Each year, more than 300,000 birds are killed by discharges by vessel owners. Up until now, how much were the fines imposed in Canada on large corporations like Canada Steamship Lines and others? The average fine set by judges in Canada is $30,000. That is 10 times less than in the United States and 15 times less than in Great Britain. For a big corporation like Canada Steamship Lines, $30,000 is peanuts.

The Bloc Québécois amendment finally provides for a minimum fine which we find acceptable for big corporations that often mistreat the crews working on their ships. The amount of the minimum fine will depend, of course, on the type of vessel.

Today, the end is near. We have before the House a bill which we hope the Senate will pass as soon as possible. Our laws are such that the fines for corporations or individuals who act irresponsibly are small. That is where this legislation will come into play.

It is thus with great pleasure that we will vote for Bill C-15 and for the amendment that was proposed by the government. What we wish for, and this is the last wish, is that we no longer experience what we went through with the Species at Risk Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act or the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. We adopted legislation, but, quite often, it is not enforced. I hope that the government will take note and put the means in place so that, finally, birds can be protected as they deserve to be.