Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Quebecois will be supporting Bill C-14, because the development of the Canadian shipping industry should have been reviewed decades ago. This legislation has been long awaited by the public, shippers and receivers of goods and also part of the industry.
Again, we will never say it often enough, this bill should have been passed in the last parliament. It did not happen because the government called an election for no better reason than to please some politicians. Because of that early election, bills like Bill C-14 are once again before the House.
Was the wait worth it? That is the big question that we and the people of Quebec and the rest of Canada who are listening should be asking ourselves. As I was saying, Bill C-14 was introduced in that last parliament but was not passed because the government called an early election. Did the government use the delay to go over the bill and ensure that the industry would be totally happy with the proposed changes to the Canada Shipping Act? I am afraid not.
In a press release dated March 1, 2000, the Minister of Transport stated that this legislation, as introduced, was aimed at promoting the economic growth of the shipping industry. That is what the Minister of Transport said on March 1 regarding the introduction of Bill C-14. All those who are concerned about the future of shipping in Quebec and in Canada expected the government to seize the opportunity, being just a few months into its mandate, to introduce a stronger bill that would have really helped the shipping industry, as mentioned by the minister in his statement.
I repeat that he said in that statement that the bill's intent was to promote the economic growth of the shipping industry. It so happens that the Bloc Quebecois had mentioned on several occasions that the only way to promote the economic growth of the shipping industry was to establish a real federal shipbuilding policy.
We had no choice but to recognize that the bill that was introduced at the beginning of this parliament is a carbon copy of the previous one, except for some 27 amendments dealing mostly with periods, commas and legal technicalities. We sadly realized that the government had not taken this opportunity to establish, through this shipping bill, a true federal shipbuilding policy.
Even though the minister received a report in early April from the committee, the national partnership project committee on shipbuilding, he has still not announced what he plans to do about it.
Advantage could have been taken of it to introduce a real change, not just piecemeal amendments. This was a new bill, even if it was drafted already for passage during the last parliament. Since a committee was struck, as I have said, the national partnership committee on shipbuilding, which has submitted its report to the minister, we could have taken advantage of it as a good responsible government to introduce a whole new chapter on shipbuilding in Canada, but as hon. members will have realized, this was not done.
The Bloc Quebecois, and myself in particular, want to see the entire matter of shipbuilding revisited. As we speak, the shipyards are only at about 25% capacity. In Quebec there is an obvious decline, when total job numbers are looked at, in Lévis, Île aux Coudres and Les Méchins, and the situation is the same everywhere, in Vancouver and in Halifax. In the past it has given work to some 12,000 people, but as we speak the figure is scarcely 2,750.
This is hard to understand. We MPs wage battles for our constituents. The Bloc Quebecois has fought for them on shipbuilding, on the number of jobs in this sector. We began the battle. The government struck an independent special committee, which was to produce a report.
When the bill that preceded Bill C-14 was introduced in the previous parliament, the government could argue that it could not add a chapter on shipbuilding because it was waiting for the committee to table its report. The committee has now submitted its report, but the minister has yet to decide what he will do with it.
In order to promote the industry's economic growth, it might have been very interesting, as the minister said, to add a whole new chapter on the recovery of Canada's shipbuilding industry. Why? Because the Canadian workforce is qualified and it costs less than that of most of our competitors. We have an edge on all the other countries.
The majority of Canadian shipyards use very modern equipment and advanced technology. Two of them hold ISO 9001 quality certification, while four have ISO 9002. Shipyard managers and other stakeholders in the marine industry feel that they were abandoned by the federal government at least ten years ago. They feel left out compared to other industries such as, to name but one, the aerospace industry. The shipbuilding industry deserved to be listened to in a serious and independent fashion.
With direct access to three oceans and to the world's longest inland waterway, shipbuilders and shipowners wonder why Canada chose to let their industry down.
These are issues that were raised by the Bloc Quebecois and that the government decided to deal with by setting up a special committee. However, it did not see fit to include a whole chapter in the new Bill C-14 to deal with the industry.
Shipping is the most economical means of transportation and the one that is most respectful of the environment. A number of shipyards are surviving at the present time because of provincial government intervention, although this is an area of federal jurisdiction.
We talk about all kinds of jurisdictions. Today or yesterday the Prime Minister announced the creation of a task force on urban issues that will be travelling across Canada. That is an area of provincial jurisdiction, one that is the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec. The government should leave it to the provinces, but it is apparently very hard to understand.
Quebec has tax measures, including a tax credit. Nova Scotia has a specific program of financial guarantees. British Columbia has encouraged the acceleration of its aluminum ferry program. Canada's shipbuilding industry is at a disadvantage compared to its Asian competitors, who receive government subsidies of up to 30% of the amount of their contracts, the Europeans, who receive about 9%, and the Americans, who benefit from protectionist measures. Yet Canada has neither subsidies nor protectionist measures. We have missed the boat.
I would like to commend my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois, the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, who introduced, on October 14, 1999, a private member's bill, Bill C-213, on shipbuilding. His bill was intended to promote shipbuilding in Canada and to enhance the competitive capacity of Canadian shipyards.
Obviously our fine Liberal government decided to not make this bill a votable item. Still, I congratulate my colleague on his effort, because he had three very ingenious and significant ideas arising from the discussions he had with the industry. That is why there were three parts to his bill.
The first part concerned the establishment of a program of loans and guarantees to indicate to the shipbuilding industry in Canada that there was a program providing that 87.5% of the amount of a loan for the purchase of a ship could be guaranteed by the federal government.
There was therefore, initially, a loan guarantee, and then a rate of interest comparable to that available for loans from financial institutions to large and financially strong corporations.
It would have been possible to provide a loan guarantee with competitive interest rates and a repayment schedule comparable to that offered by financial institutions to large corporations. The method of repayment would suit obligations and be appropriate for a business that could become very prosperous.
The second part concerned the exclusion of new vessels from the application of the lend lease regulations. Because of their complexity, lend leases effectively eliminated the purchase of ships in Canada by lend lease. The new lend leases include repayment conditions, which harm the industry. New ships were excluded from the lend lease regulations.
The third innovation was to establish a refundable tax credit. In 1997 the government of Quebec announced tax incentives to stimulate the shipping industry. These incentives were based on a tax credit. The Quebec government raised the refundable tax credit for shipbuilding from 40% to 50%. The federal government could have offered the same kind of tax credits to businesses in the shipbuilding industry to breathe new life into this industry.
It did not happen. Once again, the Liberal government missed a golden opportunity in a very interesting bill that was supposed to be a life saving measure for the shipping industry, according to the minister himself. I repeat that he said in a statement on March 1 that the bill's intent was to promote the economic growth of the shipping industry.
Why did he not heed the recommendations presented to him in April by the committee that he himself established? Why did he not take advantage of this new expertise and these new recommendations to include in the very interesting shipping bill a whole chapter on shipbuilding in Canada?
It would have solved the problem and would have given momentum to an industry which, I repeat, is only operating at 25% of its capacity today.
The present number of workers is 2,750. It used to be 12,000. These men and women, these Quebecers and Canadians, expect that when the time comes to bring in a bill the government will table one that they want. I repeat, we had one that was votable at the end of the last parliament, which was interrupted when the government decided to call an election to satisfy the wishes of certain politicians.
However, the government again brings in an identical bill, when it would have had a great opportunity after being presented with a most interesting committee report to bring in a real bill that would have got the shipping industry back on its feet, with a whole chapter devoted to shipbuilding and to getting this important industry back on its feet, since it is operating at only 25% capacity. We have the brains and the skills necessary, and we are capable of competing with all other industries in the world.
Once again the Liberal government, the Government of Canada, has not listened to the recommendations by taxpayers, by representatives of the industry, and by the Bloc Quebecois. The Bloc Quebecois has staunchly defended, not for partisan reasons but for human ones, the skilled men and women who are getting on in years but would still like to use their experience for this fine country. They cannot, because there is no work at this time.
The government has again missed a golden opportunity to include in this Bill C-14 a whole chapter on shipbuilding, which could have revived the industry in a number of our regions that are experiencing major blips. We could have had an opportunity to revive this entire industrial sector, which involves a number of regions on the coasts of both Quebec and Canada. This would have been an excellent opportunity, one once again missed out on by a government that is too arrogant, that governs alone without heeding good recommendations from those who are anxious to pass them on.