Madam Speaker, I would like to start by congratulating my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin for his presentation. He talked like an expert on the topic.
I am pleased to rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-6, which seeks to establish the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
My party supports the bill. However, it has some concerns regarding measures that could jeopardize the delicate balance between security and the freedom of Quebeckers and Canadians.
We will recall that on December 12, 2003, the Prime Minister created the portfolio of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, which combines the activities of the solicitor general aimed at protecting Canada from natural disasters. The department ensures policy cohesion among six agencies, namely the RCMP, CSIS, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canada Firearms Centre, Correctional Service Canada and the National Parole Board.
Looking at Bill C-6, we realize that the minister has huge powers. He plays a leadership role relating to Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness while respecting the Prime Minister's prerogative in matters relating to national security and the statutory authorities of other ministers.
The minister establishes strategic priorities for and coordination of portfolio agencies, while respecting their distinct mandates, cooperates with provinces and foreign states, and facilitates the sharing of information among public safety agencies as authorized under current Canadian law.
I will now talk about emergency measures in case of disasters. In 1996, I personally lived through the Saguenay floods. When a major disaster happens, concrete measures must be taken quickly.
I speak about them first hand having spent all my professional life in Chicoutimi where I was involved in emergency measures planning. In case of an emergency or a disaster, my role was to coordinate.
We all remember the July 1996 flood in the Upper Saguenay, the Lower Saguenay and the majority of the municipalities of my riding, Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, including Chicoutimi, La Baie, Laterrière, Lower Saguenay, Anse-Saint-Jean, Ferland-et-Boileau and other cities and communities outside my riding, like the city of Jonquiere and other surrounding municipalities, with a population of about 160,000 persons. This area includes two large basins collecting water used to produce electricity. I am of course talking about the big Lake Kénogami and the big Lake Ha! Ha!
For almost a week, we had heavy rains in the region covering the Upper Saguenay, all the cities that I just mentioned, and the Lower Saguenay. The two basins overflowed of course. They filled up just like this glass would fill up if I were to put it under a tap. It would of course fill up, and then it would overflow.
Rivers and waterways helped to drain off the water, but because of the dams holding back the waters, the basins were flooded and expanded. Large communities located on those waterways and basins were flooded. We had to relocate a lot of people. That brings me to the importance of quick emergency response.
This happened on a Saturday when I was on holiday. The public safety authorities in my area and the emergency planning committee called me. We got together to evaluate the situation. After a few hours, of course, the situation was so bad that already there was a real overflow. We immediately contacted the mayor of Chicoutimi who was an active participant in emergency planning.
A few hours after becoming aware of the situation, he declared emergency measures in Chicoutimi because of the flooding and the overflow of the main reservoir. In the case of Chicoutimi, it was Lake Kénogami. Other municipalities in similar locations made the same decisions at about the same time: to implement emergency measures or to implement an emergency plan, which meant evacuating the population, setting up structures to accommodate and feed them, and all the other details such a plan requires.
A great deal of cooperation is also required among all levels involved. Since I am here in this Parliament, which has responsibility for the federal services available in my region, I can state that I am aware of this great collaborative effort and the great responsibility these emergency plans entail. They are implemented by Quebec emergency preparedness, by a delegation in each region. The emergency plan, under the direction of the mayor of the municipality and all the municipal departments, is where the responsibility remains. The federal services in that area were the army—we have a base at Bagotville, in Haut-Saguenay—and the RCMP and weather services. These all put themselves under the leadership and responsibility of the emergency measures plan. As far as the army was concerned, more specific measures were involved, and it was mandated to look after a specific area of intervention.
All this shows the need for collaborative efforts, and there certainly was cooperation. An emergency measures plan was put in place, and put in place promptly. As a result, the population was spared a good many problems.
I was also able to see what help was provided by the various players in society. As you remember, all of Canada was made aware. In my region of Quebec, the population was mobilized to help our community, our people. When a disaster hits, political allegiance does not count any more.
I can bear witness: there is simply cooperation and it is important in this type of situation.
Indeed, who is in a better position than the people who live in regional county municipalities and who work with the Government of Quebec to monitor the arrangements made to ensure the safety and the operation of those emergency measures.
Let me go back to the emergency measures. In municipalities, they are periodically reviewed. Needless to say, when an emergency plan is redone, it is as if, tomorrow morning, a disaster will happen. That means that some people are in charge in that structure and their telephone number and address must be available so that they can be contacted rapidly.
The Government of Quebec has established public emergency measures in cooperation with community stakeholders in order to have in place the means to better forecast such incidents. The Government of Quebec has the tools to manage the procedures to be followed in case of a disaster in the province.
At home, we had the flood, the flood of 1996 and the ice storm of 1998, which have contributed to making the population aware that it was exposed to certain risks.
These two events also gave rise to serious questions as to the ability of the Quebec civil security system to ensure adequate protection of people and property in the case of major disasters.
The Quebec government thus elected to have both these events analyzed by a scientific and technical commission called the Nicolet commission. This body made recommendations, of a technical, as well as a legal and legislative nature. It led, on December 20, 2001, to the creation of a new law which replaced the Act respecting the protection of persons and property in the event of disaster. The implementation of this legislation concerned citizens as well as businesses, municipalities as well as the government.
Today, Bill C-6 seek to create a national security structure. Its objectives are legitimate and we understand them. We simply want to stress that the Government of Quebec possesses a department of public safety which is already in tune with the situation in Quebec and that public safety comes under the jurisdiction of Quebec.
Nonetheless, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-6. We remain concerned, however, by measures which could imperil the balance between the security and freedom of Quebeckers and Canadians, as well as by intrusions into the public safety activities of the Government of Quebec.
Today, I ask the Liberal government to explicitly recognize in this bill respect for the jurisdiction of Quebec. On June 28, Quebeckers and Canadians demanded changes in the way the country is being governed and more compromise in our policies.
The availability of a Canada national safety policy might lead the federal government to interfere in areas of Quebec's jurisdiction. It is time for federal intrusions in the areas of jurisdiction of the provinces and of Quebec to stop.
Today, the federal government spends more in areas under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces than in its own areas of jurisdiction. We must draw a line somewhere to avoid confusion.
Fortunately, concerning emergency plans, as I was saying, this has not happened, nor will it, I hope. Emergency plans come under the jurisdictions of municipalities, and municipalities are the creatures of the Quebec government. Emergency plans become the responsibility of the Quebec government.
We believe in the principle of Bill C-6, because it will allow for better cooperation between the various government organizations. It will facilitate the exchange of information between the various public safety organizations that enforce Canadian laws.
However, we have some concerns about the exchange of information between organizations and states, because this may have an effect on Canadians' right to privacy.
Since 1993, the Bloc Québécois has steadfastly denounced the ever-increasing federal interference in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. We were elected by the people to represent their interests. We are in favour of this bill, but we will ensure the respect of jurisdictions and of citizens' individual freedom.
I conclude by reminding members of the House that the Quebec government must still be responsible for the implementation of emergency plans. Under these plans, there must be cooperation and integration of the federal government services that we find in a region affected by a disaster.