Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I am pleased to comment on Bill C-14, the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.
This bill modernizes the legislation that will improve the safety and economic performance of the commercial marine industry as well as ensure the safety of those who use pleasure craft. Key changes to the existing legislation include improvements to provisions to protect and support efficient crews, ensure passenger and vessel safety and protect the environment. A new administrative penalties scheme provides an alternative means for dealing with certain contraventions.
The enactment clarifies the marine responsibilities of the Department of Transport and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The enactment organizes the contents, updates the terminology and streamlines substantive requirements to make the law much clearer and easier to understand.
The enactment amends the Shipping Conferences Act, 1987 to inject greater competition within shipping conferences, to streamline the administration of the act and to ensure that Canadian legislation covering international liner shipping conferences remains in harmony with that of Canada's major trading partners.
There are 14 parts to this bill. The first defines certain terms and provides details on its application.
Part 2 includes provisions with respect to the registration, listing and recording of vessels. This part comes under the responsibility of the Minister of Transport.
Part 3 includes provisions with respect to the qualifications and conditions of employment of crew members. This part also comes under the responsibility of the Department of Transport.
Part 4 includes provisions with respect to the safety of passengers and crew members. This part also comes under the responsibility of the Minister of Transport.
Part 5 includes provisions with respect to navigation services, the creation of VTS zones and the obligations of vessels in search and rescue operations. This part comes under the responsibility of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
Part 6 deals with incidents, accidents and casualties. It determines the right to claim for salvage services, the obligations of vessels in case of collisions and the authority to inquire into causes of death. This part comes under the responsibility of the Department of Transport.
Part 7 has to do with wrecks, specifically their ownership and disposition. This part comes under the responsibility of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Part 8 determines the responsibilities of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with respect to pollution and establishes rules for prevention and intervention.
Part 9 determines the responsibilities of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with respect to pollution prevention.
Part 10, which has to do with pleasure craft, comes under the responsibility of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Part 11 concerns the application of the act and the various powers given the Minister of Transport.
Part 12 includes a variety of provisions, including provisions on proceedings initiated under the act.
Parts 13 and 14 contain transitional provisions and amendments in co-ordination with other laws.
All that to say the this bill, which died on the order paper at the last session, remains, in our opinion, a fine example of the pointlessness of the latest federal elections. Good bills were being studied, of course. This bill on shipping was one, as was Bill S-2 on maritime liability.
Members have obviously understood that the government is reintroducing, with great show, a bill that gathered dust on the shelves of the last parliament and died on the order paper because the federal government decided to call an election that was too early, according to some, and unnecessary, according to others.
I hope that the government is not waving the flags over these bills that are bursting out in great pomp at the start of this parliament. The work was already done. I know that my Bloc Quebecois colleagues worked on the bill, which appears as C-14, identical to what was introduced in the last parliament and debated then.
I must also point out the Minister of Transport said in a press release on March 1, when this bill was introduced, that its intent was to promote growth in the shipping industry.
Obviously, the Bloc Quebecois mentioned on a number of occasions and reiterated its position that the only way to achieve this objective of promoting economic growth in the shipping industry was to establish a real federal shipbuilding policy and to act in support of the shipbuilding industry.
There is nothing in this bill, which is a carbon copy of the legislation introduced in the last parliament, to support the shipbuilding industry. We, the members of the Bloc Quebecois, have made numerous representations to indicate that the industry is experiencing serious difficulties all across Canada.
Shipbuilding used to be a thriving industry. Today, it is only operating at 25% of its capacity. This means that millions of dollars are not being invested in the regions, and that has significant impact, particularly where there is a shipyard, such as in Lévis, on Île-aux-Coudres and in Les Méchins.
Shipbuilding has become a high tech sector that creates thousands of well paid jobs. However, the number of these jobs keeps decreasing. There are currently 2,750 people working in the sector, compared to over 12,000 at one time. Canada's shipbuilding industry urgently requires new support measures. Canada must be able to face international competition and better position itself in this respect.
The frequent media reports on the problems at the Lévis shipyard may give the impression that this shipyard is the only one experiencing difficulties. We can see, both in Vancouver and in Halifax, the lack of federal involvement. The Lévis shipyard is but one example of the federal government's laissez-faire approach in the industry. The fact that all Canadian shipyards are experiencing problems and are already operating below capacity confirms the need for a true federal shipbuilding policy.
Here are the elements that are to the advantage of Canada's shipbuilding industry and that justify federal assistance to that industry.
First, Canada's manpower is qualified and less costly than that of most competing countries.
Second, the majority of Canadian shipyards use very modern equipment and advanced technology: two of them meet the ISO-9001 standard, while four meet the ISO-9002 standard.
Third, shipyard managers and other stakeholders in the industry have felt for at least ten years that the federal government has abandoned them and they claim that they are penalized compared to other sectors, including the aerospace industry.
Fourth, with direct access to three oceans and to the world's longest inland waterway, shipbuilders and shipowners wonder why Canada chose to let the industry down.
Fifth, marine transportation is the most economical and environmentally friendly means of transportation.
Sixth, a number of shipyards are surviving at the present time because of provincial government intervention, although this is an area of federal jurisdiction. Quebec has tax measures, including a tax credit; Nova Scotia has a specific program of financial guarantees; and British Columbia has encouraged the acceleration of its aluminum ferry program.
Seventh, 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.
On October 14, 1999, the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-213, on shipbuilding. His bill provided a clear illustration of the framework required to assist the shipbuilding industry, as indeed it must be assisted. It drew upon the consensual demands from the various stakeholders in the industry, from the unions to the Shipbuilding Association of Canada.
Believe it or not, the Liberal government succeeded in declaring Bill C-213 non-votable. This bill, intended as it was to promote shipbuilding in Canada and to enhance the competitive capacity of Canadian shipyards, was deferred and struck from the order paper by the government of the Liberal party.
Today, I would like to list the advantages that were offered by Bill C-213 and continue to be concerns for the industry and the major stakeholders.
First, Bill C-213 called for a loan and loan guarantee program, something for which the Bloc Quebecois is still calling. Canada's shipbuilding industry everywhere ought to be able to benefit from loan guarantees.
More specifically, the bill called for the establishment of a program whereby a maximum of 87.5% of the money borrowed by a company from financial institutions to purchase a commercial ship that would be built in a shipyard located in Canada would be guaranteed by the federal government in the event of default in the repayment of the loan, bear a rate of interest comparable to that available for loans from financial institutions to large and financially strong corporations, and be repayable on terms comparable to those usually granted by financial institutions to large and financially strong corporations for the repayment of their loan. Therefore, nothing beyond what other major industries in Canada could claim was asked.
Second, Bill C-213 sought to have new vessels excluded from the lend-lease regulations. Revenue Canada's lend-lease regulations eliminate lend-lease purchase of ships in Canada. Revenue Canada significantly reduces the amounts that may be deducted annually from taxable revenue as depreciation in the case of lend-lease financing. Under the terms of lend-lease, only the notional principal of the loan may enter into the calculation of the depreciation.
As interest primarily is repaid in the first years of the lease, the depreciation permitted is minimal. It is therefore carried over from the first years to the final years of the useful life of the ship, something that runs contrary to the economic realities of the owner operator, whose major expenses come primarily in the first years, with things improving in the final years.
By increasing from the outset the tax burden of shipowners who use the lend-lease option, Revenue Canada's lend-lease regulations make it rather unappealing if not squarely uneconomic to use a lend-lease option to buy and finance a ship built in Canada. More specifically, the bill proposed to amend the provisions of the Income Tax Act and of its regulations to make tax provisions on lend-lease more beneficial when buying a ship built by a shipyard located in Canada.
The third major component of Bill C-213 was the creation of a refundable tax credit as asked, again, by stakeholders and the industry.
In 1997, the government of Quebec announced tax incentives to stimulate the shipping industry. These incentives are based on a tax credit that the federal government should use as a model. The Quebec government raised the refundable tax credit for shipbuilding, around since 1996, from 40% to 50%. It also introduced a tax credit for the conversion or major refitting of ships, and it extended this measure to oil rigs, in addition to making some adjustments to the measure to reduce capital taxes.
The Quebec tax policy is essentially based on a tax credit. Eligible expenses include primarily salaries relating to the building of a ship, drawings and specifications, and also half of the costs of contracts relating to construction. This tax credit amounts to 50% of eligible expenses, but it cannot exceed by more than 20% the costs at the end of a taxation year that have been incurred to build the ship. A tax credit for similar eligible expenses is also provided for the conversion or major refitting of ships.
The Liberal government refuses to harmonize federal tax measures with those of Quebec, as it agreed to do, among others, for the motion picture and television production industry. By taxing provincial tax benefits granted to the shipbuilding industry, Ottawa eliminates the positive effect of the deductions granted by Quebec to stimulate the industry. Not only does Ottawa not bother to come up with more beneficial measures, it also adversely affects the policy put forward by the Quebec government.
People often say “If you are not able to help, quit always making matters worse”. That is what the federal government is doing right now: it is not helping the industry and it is making matters worse for this industry where Quebec's tax credit is concerned.
Bill C-213 specifically suggested amending the provisions of the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations in order to allow owners of vessels and shipyards a refundable tax credit for a portion of the costs relating to the construction or refit of a commercial ship in a shipyard located in Canada or the conversion of a ship in such a shipyard. Under Bill C-213, these people could have obtained tax credits.
Once again, I repeat, the Liberal government decided to reject this bill. It will not debate it and there will not be a vote. This wonderful initiative by the brilliant Bloc Quebecois member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière has therefore been put off indefinitely. It will not be used by the government. Once again, the Government of Canada is passing up a wonderful opportunity to breathe new life into the shipbuilding industry, which was the pride of Canada and which is now operating at only 25% of its capacity.
Although the Bloc Quebecois agrees with the reference of Bill C-14 to committee for discussion, we regret that the government did not take the opportunity to re-examine this text which had already been considered in the last parliament and which involved no work on the government's part. It could at least have used the opportunity to add a complete chapter on assistance for shipbuilding, which would have eased the plight of this industry in Canada.