Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise this afternoon to address Bill C-14, an act respecting shipping and navigation and to amend the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987 and other acts on behalf of the official opposition.
It is indeed an honour to be standing before the House today giving my maiden speech. Before I express my opinion on Bill C-14, please allow me a moment to say a few words about my riding of Skeena, my constituents and the people who have helped to get me elected.
Let me say thanks to my wife Ann, who is in the gallery today to support me. Without her love and understanding I would not be here today. I want to thank our children, Bart, Joann, Lynne, Joy and Gail and their families also.
My sincere thanks go out to the residents of Skeena in northwestern British Columbia, the beautiful and vast area encompassing almost 250,000 square kilometres stretching from Bella Bella to Atlin, the Queen Charlotte Islands to Telkwa, bordered by Alaska and the Yukon in the northern half. Skeena is also the largest riding in British Columbia and one of the largest in Canada.
I am indeed proud and honoured that the constituents of Skeena chose me to be their representative in parliament. I pledge to do my very best to represent them and their interests in Ottawa.
With regard to Bill C-14, the government's summary of the bill states:
This enactment overhauls and replaces the Canada Shipping Act, other than the portions that concern liability, with modernized legislation that will promote 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 between 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 Exemption 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.
I wonder if it would be possible for the government to be any more vague when contemplating the title of such an important piece of legislation. Who thought of the title, an act respecting shipping and navigation and to amend the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987 and other acts?
Bill C-14 is significant in that it represents a complete overhaul of the updating of Bill C-35, which was first introduced in the 36th parliament and died on the order paper when the election was called. Bill C-35 was rightly entitled the Canada Shipping Act, a bill that has served as a cornerstone for shipping activity in Canadian waters.
The Canada Shipping Act has been in dire need of review for many years. I commend the government for undertaking such a monumental task. Bill C-14 contains some 334 articles and is just under 200 pages in length.
I imagine the introduction of this bill must have been a gratifying moment for its authors. I can appreciate their enthusiasm for getting the bill through the House and to committee, with the hope of finally seeing the bill passed into law. This is evident in that the bill was only introduced on March 1, one day prior to the House rising for the break week and here we are our first day back and Bill C-14 is already at second reading. Enthusiasm I can appreciate. Attempting to railroad the parliamentary process I do not.
The speed with which the government has moved from first to second reading suggests to me one of two things. Either the government does not have complete faith in the legislation that it has introduced and is concerned about it getting a proper review, or the government is so devoid of new legislation that this is the only activity on the horizon so it had better run with it.
I realize the government opposite has become so used to rushing bills through the House that it has become second nature to it, but I fail to see the national crisis that will be averted by the lightning speed passage of this particular bill.
Being a maritime nation, I am confident that there are numerous stakeholders that have been waiting patiently for the introduction and passage of this bill. I say that they have been waiting patiently because they already know what the bill contains as a result of an uncharacteristic move by the Department of Transport.
As a result of the bill's complex nature and the apparent inability of Transport Canada officials to adequately prepare new legislation, the bill was released in draft form to a limited group of stakeholders for review and input, and before the final version was prepared for introduction in the House. I support and appreciate the need for public consultation when it comes to revising and updating our nation's legislation but, as a member of parliament, I take exception when the government deliberately circumvents the parliamentary process by handing out copies of the bill prior to members of parliament even being made aware of its existence.
I am concerned that this has set an extremely dangerous precedent. The continued disregard for parliamentary procedure and attempts to reduce the power of the elected members of the House should not be tolerated.
In yet another fine display of parliamentary disregard, the government has chosen to incorporate changes to the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987 or SCEA into a bill that when introduced last session only dealt with shipping regulations. By only the broadest stretch of the imagination do these two bills have anything in common. It is very convenient for the government however to attach such a contentious amendment to the SCEA bill to Bill C-14, since Bill C-14 is a bill that shipping interests have been calling for.
SCEA is contentious in that it allows ocean shipping lines to collude and form cartels that determine the scheduling and pricing for freight movements into and out of Canadian ports. By its provisions, the shipping lines are exempt from the provisions of the Competition Act, a move that was originally intended to ensure that Canada was well serviced by the shipping lines.
Some groups have come forward and questioned the necessity for the continuation of SCEA. I am confident we will be hearing from those groups as the debate on the bill progresses.
Despite the concerns I have raised regarding the manner in which the bill has been introduced, we will be supporting the referral of the bill to committee where I am confident it will undergo a very detailed paragraph by paragraph review to ensure that the members of the House are satisfied with its contents.
With regard to shipping, I would like to make some comments relating to my riding of Skeena. Skeena has a long history of shipping, principally the ports of Prince Rupert, Kitimat and Stewart. However, I will begin by painting a picture of my riding for the benefit of those members who have not had the pleasure to visit this vast and beautiful area of Canada.
The riding of Skeena is a wonderful area in which to live, rich with fish and wildlife, rich in potential for new mineral resource extraction and new opportunity in value added forestry operations and oil and gas development. One of the best kept Canadian trade secrets is a transportation corridor through northwestern B.C. en route to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the eastern U.S.A. This port-road-rail link, which is underused and is frankly not well known, has the potential to provide tremendous opportunity to large areas of Canada.
The potential is there for shipping much more grain and coal through the Ridley Island terminals of Prince Rupert, as these facilities are vastly underutilized, as is the bulk loading facility at the port of Stewart, Canada's most northerly ice free port. Kitimat also has major dock and shipping facilities.
Transportation is critical to the social and economic fabric of the country, whether it be a seaport, an airport, a rail line or a highway. Transportation infrastructure is an economic engine that not only sustains growth but actually generates economic prosperity.
My riding of Skeena is also home to many aboriginal communities which face intense challenge, as do most other small resource based communities such as Stewart, my home for many years. Although Skeena riding offers a great lifestyle, the economy of today is creating hardship for families. For many it is a difficult place in which to earn a living.
The results from the recent election show very clearly that the west and the north feel alienated and are not satisfied with the treatment being received. Tough love does not cut it. We must be recognized as a contributor to Canada's growth and economy, which we truly are and can be in the future.
An issue of major concern to all northerners, and I suspect most non-urban dwellers right across Canada, is the badly flawed Bill C-68. Hunting is a way of life for most of rural Canada's population. Putting people who have been around firearms all their lives, responsible people, in the position of being criminals is neither acceptable nor right. Changes to this legislation are needed if Canadians are to respect and abide by this law.
My riding of Skeena, in northwestern British Columbia, is currently in the throes of a horrendous economic downturn due in part to circumstances beyond anyone's control. However, the recognition of the difficulties and possible steps toward some solution is a federal government necessity and responsibility.
In today's world market economy, recognition of the impact of pulp and paper prices, lumber prices, gas, oil and metal prices on resource based economies is essential. There are opportunities that must be recognized by government and the federal government should not ignore them.
For instance, in co-operation with the province of B.C., the current moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration in B.C. must be lifted. The potential oil reserves of that area alone are 10 times Hibernia, at 9.8 billion barrels. Gas reserves could exceed 25.9 trillion cubic feet. There is added potential in both the Bowser and the Nechako basins. These options must be pursued and the moratorium on exploration status quo position taken by the government is not acceptable. Development on the east coast was acceptable, why not on the west.
Steps must be taken to revive the mining industry in B.C. The temporary exploration investment tax credit in October's teeny budget provides some incentive for B.C. mining interests to invest in the ailing mineral exploration sector. However aboriginal land claims and permitting processes such as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Department of Fisheries and Oceans concerns have huge ramifications for the mining industry. The government has a role in dealing with such issues. Cutting red tape and turn around time lines for permit approval would assist greatly.
The uncertainty of security of mineral tenure because of the land claims issue creates a major detriment to investment in the mining industry. Investor perceptions are that elected governments, both federal and provincial, have lost control over allocation and management of resources. The implied concept of aboriginal veto power over development must be rejected. Let us keep mining in Canada, not chase it away.
The March 31, 2001 expiry of the Canada-United States softwood lumber agreement requires a strong position from the government. The recent formation of the Canadian Lumber Trade Alliance is a significant move in dealing with a united approach to Canada's position on free trade in softwood lumber with the U.S.A.
B.C. accounts for over 50% of Canada's softwood lumber exports to the U.S. to a value of over $5 billion annually. Some of the producers in my area had no U.S. quota due to Asia being their principal market. That Asian market has collapsed, creating layoffs and shutdowns. In the current agreement, access to a U.S. market is based on historic shipping levels: no history, no quota.
It must be recognized that policy changes are necessary to reach free trade in softwood lumber between the U.S. and Canada. I ask that the government work with the Canadian Lumber Trade Alliance to achieve that goal.
Last year, on the north coast of B.C., the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans weak stock management strategies of upper Skeena coho, which represent only one-quarter of 1% of the total Skeena River fishery, shut down a $30 million sockeye fishery, a tremendous blow to the economy of Prince Rupert and area.
DFO and the minister must be more cognizant of local situations and of the difficulties being caused by allowing the Alaska coho catch to affect access to Skeena River sockeye runs. An agreement needs to be reached on a mutually acceptable reduction of interceptions, that is, a reduction of Canadian interception of Pacific northwest salmon stocks in return for reduced interception of Canadian stocks in Alaska. Life is not easy on the north coast these days and a more realistic implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty would allow our people the opportunity to earn a decent living.
Areas of western Canada have been sadly ignored by the government, especially the northwest. Airports in Smithers, Terrace and Prince Rupert are concerned over the proposed reintroduction of an increased level of emergency response services, whereas levels were reduced only a few years ago. This highlights the concern that the federal government did not bargain in good faith when downloading airports. Safety is paramount, but a realistic approach to the operation of these smaller, low traffic operations is needed to keep them economically viable.
The airport at Terrace has been for some time attempting to have an instrument landing system installed. Such a system would allow 75% of the flights missed due to bad weather conditions to actually be completed. The failure numbers exceed over 200 on an annual basis, at huge cost to the carrier and excessive inconvenience to the travelling public. For example, on my last trip home, last week, after the long journey from Ottawa the flight I was on from Vancouver to Terrace could not land. After actually seeing the runway at Terrace we flew the 500 miles back to Vancouver to stay overnight. Thankfully I was able to get home the next morning but, as I explained, I actually had to fly 1,500 miles to make a 500 mile flight. It was very frustrating for me and for the many other passengers and business people trying to make their way to northwestern B.C.
On another topic, the number of business closures in northwestern B.C. is another indicator of just how troubled the economy is. Over 50 businesses have closed in the city of Prince Rupert in the last few years. Regional rental vacancy rates range from 20% to 75%. The cost to our employment insurance and other social benefits is staggering, and a serious review of programs and policies is badly needed in order to determine a better way to meet the economic development needs and potential of our northern communities.
Having spent most of my life in the north, I am fully aware of the boom and bust cycles that have been so prevalent. Lately we have seen much more of the latter, creating devastation in the communities of the north. Recognition of the west, and especially the northwest, must be a priority for parliament. We want to be a part of Canada and recognized and rewarded as such, not through handouts but through good sound decisions based on common sense and sound economic principles.
The wealth of Canada has traditionally been generated in the north. Government imposed restraints to developing opportunities and creating economic well-being must end.
In closing I will get back to the legislation at hand, Bill C-14, an act respecting shipping and navigation and to amend the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987, and other acts. I will quickly summarize my comments on the bill. I recognize that the Canada Shipping Act was in desperate need of updating and that stakeholders as well as industry have been calling for such amendments. However, I do not see the need to rush the legislation through parliament. It is a large and detailed piece of legislation needing much review and analysis, both in committee and in the House.
I would expect that government backbench members would also want sufficient time to review the bill's contents and consult industry for its opinions. One sitting day between first and second readings is absolutely insufficient time for review and analysis of such an intricate piece of legislation.
In that regard, I lodge this complaint and send the following message to the government: when it rushes legislation through the House, as it has begun to do with Bill C-14, it sends the wrong message to Canadians and to industry, a message of arrogance and complete disregard for democratic parliamentary procedure. It also makes one wonder what the government has to hide and, frankly, what is wrong with the legislation that the government needs to rush it through without proper analysis and debate. As well, to tack on amendments to the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act in this bill is completely irresponsible, since the government well knows its amendments spark much debate and controversy.
The official opposition looks forward to reviewing every detail of this bill in committee. The government can certainly count on that.