An Act respecting the Administration of Oaths of Office

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

This bill, the first introduced in any session, is a formal tradition rather than proposed legislation. (It has nothing to do with oaths of office. The Senate equivalent is called An Act relating to Railways and—you guessed it!—in no way relates to railways.)

Sponsor

Stephen Harper  Conservative

Status

Not active, as of Oct. 16, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2008 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-27, dealing with identity theft.

In May 2007, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics undertook a study on identity theft. At the time, we began to hear witnesses and look at this issue, because it is a serious problem. This issue directly affects individuals, but it also has an impact on our cities, our nation, our country, and even at the international level.

In fact, Canada is the only G-8 member that has not yet legislated against spams, which are often used for identity theft purposes. Some countries point to Canada as a haven for spammers. So, it was time to take action in this area.

It goes without saying that the Bloc supports the principle of the bill. As I just mentioned, identity theft is a very serious issue. We have to modernize the Criminal Code to reflect the reality of identity theft.

When she appeared before our committee, on May 8, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said that, in her opinion, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which was implemented six years ago “is not a tool that, alone, enables us to combat this phenomenon, even if this legislation imposes restrictions on the collection of data. The safeguard principle permits the secure and confidential holding of personal information. It also makes it possible to limit the time during which information may be kept, as well as the number of persons who have access to it.”

However, as Ms. Stoddart pointed out, this is not enough, and this is why an act on identity theft is a welcome initiative.

According to Ms. Stoddart, concerted action by the different levels of government is required. The Bloc Québécois is not alone to say so. Let me quote her again. She suggested that “the federal government has to work closely with the provinces, because a lot of what happens in terms of ID theft falls within provincial jurisdiction”.

Provincial jurisdiction does not mean only certain fields of responsibility. We are really talking about the jurisdiction of the provinces or that of the Quebec nation, because Quebeckers have jurisdiction over the management of their fields of responsibility. Ms. Stoddart gives the example of those people who have had their houses sold out from underneath them. That is something that falls entirely within the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.

Generally speaking, this Conservative government appears to be incapable of working in cooperation with Quebec and the provinces. Examples of this would be the aid package for the manufacturing and forestry sectors and the implementation of the Kyoto protocol.

The Bloc Québécois recognizes that amending the Criminal Code will not be enough to eliminate identity theft. More measures will have to be put in place by governments, including: public information to reduce victimization; regulations to provide a better framework for the management, storage and disposal of information by companies; and measures to ensure greater standardization and security in the process for issuing and verifying identity documents. The federal government has a crummy track record in terms of the management of personal information. It will have to set an example, but I will come back to that later.

The purpose of this bill is to curb identity theft, that is the unauthorized use of personal information generally obtained for criminal purposes. Information such as someone's name, date of birth, address, credit card number, social insurance number or any other personal identification number can be used to open a bank account, apply for a credit card, get mail redirected, sign up for cellular phone services, rent a vehicle, equipment or premises, or even get a job.

Bill C-27 creates three new basic offences, and all of them carry a maximum penalty of five years.

The first one involves obtaining and possessing identity information with the intent to use it in a misleading, dishonest or fraudulent fashion to commit a crime.

The second offence, which involves trafficking in identity information, targets those who give or sell information to a third party, while being well aware that this information could be used for criminal purposes, or while not caring about it.

Finally, the third offence involves the unlawful possession or trafficking in government-issued identity documents that have the information pertaining to another person.

Some witnesses confirmed to the committee that, under the Criminal Code, a person who copies—in a convenience store, a grocery store or some other business—a credit card or an automated teller card, does not commit an offence. Right now, it is very difficult to charge such a person for using personal information.

Bill C-27 will correct this situation. From now on, individuals in a business who copy a credit card or an automated teller card when someone gives it to them for a few moments will be liable to prosecution under the provisions of Bill C-27.

Bill C-27 also includes other changes to the Criminal Code. It creates a new offence for directly or indirectly redirecting someone's mail, for possessing a copy of a Canada Post key, and also additional forgery related offences, such as the trafficking in and possession of forged documents with the intent of using them. The bill also redefines the offence of personation with the notion of “identity fraud”; by specifying the meaning of the expression “fraudulently personates any person”; by adding the offence of possessing instruments for copying credit card data, in addition to the existing offence of possessing instruments for forging credit cards.

As I was saying earlier in reference to those individuals working in businesses who might copy a credit card or an automated teller card, this will now be an offence.

In addition, the bill introduces a new power that would enable the tribunal to order the offender, as part of the sentence, to make restitution to a victim of identity theft or identity fraud for the expenses associated with rehabilitating their identity, such as the cost of replacement documents and cards and costs related to correcting their credit history. This is extremely important because many people come to our constituency offices and complain that they have been victims of identity theft and are having a hard time recovering their identity. Sometimes they complain that it costs them a lot of money to recover their identity.

Obviously, because the exception proves the rule, there are exceptions. The bill before us provides for two exemptions that would protect people who create false documents for secret government operations, as well as public servants—law enforcement officers—who create and use secret identities in carrying out their duties, from court action for identity fraud.

Identity theft is a very worrisome problem. According to Public Safety Canada, identity theft is now one of the fastest-growing crimes in Canada and the United States. In 2004, identity theft cost over $50 billion U.S. Identity theft costs consumers, banks and retailers a lot of money. In 2002, the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus estimated that consumers, banks, credit card companies, stores and other businesses lost $2.5 billion to identity theft.

In 2006, the Ontario Provincial Police's PhoneBusters program—an anti-fraud call centre created in January 1993 by the OPP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Competition Bureau—received 7,800 calls from victims of identity theft who declared personal and business losses amounting to over $16 million. However, PhoneBusters recognizes that these statistics do not provide a complete picture of the situation. The organization believes that the number of calls received represents but a small fraction—perhaps 5%—of the actual total. According to PhoneBusters, payment card fraud, which is a major element of identity theft, accounted for 42% of identity theft incidents reported in 2003. According to the RCMP, total losses due to credit card fraud amounted to $200 million in 2003.

In addition to these financial losses, victims of identity theft suffer damaged credit ratings and compromised personal and financial records.

In a 2003 study, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reported that victims of identity theft spent an average of $500 million U.S. to recover their identity and restore their credit rating.

According to a 2006 Ipsos Reid poll, one Canadian adult in four—24%, in fact, or about 5.7 million Canadians—said he or she had been a victim of identity theft—4%—or knew someone who had been a victim—20%.

This Civil Code must be dusted off. The offences currently in the Criminal Code were defined for the most part at a time when the traditional concept of “property” applied. The problem with identity theft is that personal information is not considered property. In applying the provisions of the Criminal Code, if it is impossible to establish a direct causal link with an economic loss or another serious injury, it becomes very difficult to prove that someone committed a crime such as identity theft.

Roughly 40 provisions of the current Criminal Code could apply to identity theft. For example, subsection 342(3) of the Criminal Code makes it a criminal offence to possess and traffic in credit or debit cards and related data for the purpose of using them or obtaining services provided by the card issuer.

The provisions on forgery apply to people who knowingly make false documents in order to use them or pass them off as genuine documents.

A person who uses a false document, knowing that it is forged, in order to defraud another person, can be charged with fraud and uttering forged documents.

Offenders who assume a false identity for economic or other gain—for example, to avoid being linked to criminal offences—can be charged with identity theft.

Simple possession and collection of personal information are not crimes under the Criminal Code.

In a letter dated November 21, 2007 to the member for Hochelaga, the Minister of Justice stated that he intended to introduce a bill to amend the Criminal Code in order to solve the problem of identity theft. I stress the word “solve”.

The minister is a bit too enthusiastic. The bill is a step in the right direction. However, the Criminal Code is an unwieldy instrument for fighting identity theft: the rules of evidence are strict. Other measures will have to be put in place to effectively fight identity theft.

The Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, has on several occasions called for amendments to the Criminal Code in order to more effectively fight identity theft, and she also recognizes that this tool is not very effective. She stated,

I don't think it's just an issue of the Criminal Code. As you know, our law administrators hesitate to use the Criminal Code: the standards of proof are higher, and the charter may apply, and so very often you have to have a fairly clear-cut case to use the Criminal Code.

There is one requirement for Bill C-27: the federal government must work closely with Quebec and the provinces. Once again, the Privacy Commissioner maintains that the real solution to the problem of identity theft lies in civil procedures:

Civil sanctions that are very easy to prove and easy for citizens, for example, to take to small claims courts, which may provide a more easily accessible deterrent to the growing industry of ID theft. This means, of course, that I think the federal government has to work closely with the provinces, because a lot of what happens in terms of ID theft falls within provincial jurisdiction.

The Bloc Québécois recognizes that amending the Criminal Code will not be enough to solve the problem of identity theft. Other measures will have to be put in place by governments: education campaigns—I spoke of these earlier—to reduce victimization in particular; regulations to provide more stringent oversight of how businesses manage, store and dispose of information; and measures to promote greater uniformity and security in the process of issuing and verifying identification documents.

But this government is incapable of collaborating with the provinces. Some of the solutions for combating identity theft rest with the provinces under the constitutional powers in relation to property and civil rights.

This government seems to be extremely reluctant to collaborate. Examples of this abound. The present Conservative government refused to collaborate with Quebec and the provinces on bringing forward a real plan to assist the forestry and manufacturing industries. The Conservative government rejected a series of unanimous requests by the National Assembly out of hand, requests that included honouring the Kyoto protocol, abandoning its plan for a single securities commission, a plan rejected by all of the provinces except Ontario, abandoning its reform of Parliament and reversing its decision to scrap the court challenges program.

The Conservative government succeeded in upsetting all the provinces with its reform of how the seats in the House of Commons are allocated. Senate reform has upset a majority of provinces. Equalization payment reform has been a bitter pill for Quebec and Ontario and the provinces with offshore oil resources.

So the Conservative government, which should be working with the provinces to combat identity theft, has instead retreated to its corner and made a few changes that are necessary but that have a limited effect on the problem in question.

The government seems to be in more of a hurry to give the impression that it is doing something than in developing a coherent strategy for effectively combating this plague.

And then, before handing the provinces new responsibilities for enforcing the Criminal Code, did it so much as make sure that they had the resources to enforce the new identity theft provisions?

This is the federal government, which is supposed to set an example. Even though it has a sorry record when it comes to managing personal information, it will have to set an example. The federal government is proposing to penalize people who use identification documents such as social insurance cards fraudulently. This is the same government that is not doing enough to protect and strengthen the integrity of social insurance numbers. In June 2006, the Auditor General estimated that there were 2.9 million more social insurance numbers in circulation than the estimated number of Canadians aged 30 and over.

Bill C-27 makes it an offence to falsely represent one’s self to be a peace officer or public officer. In December 2004, the media revealed that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority had lost control of its uniforms. From January to September 2004, CATSA issued about 75,000 uniform items to its 4,000 or so screeners. Of those items, a total of 1,127 were reported lost or stolen.

Examples of mismanagement of personal information by the federal government abound. The federal government wants the public to believe that it is taking the question of identity theft seriously, but in its own actions it ignores the problem.

The Bloc Québécois supports the amendments to the Criminal Code, but also calls on the federal government to adopt exemplary practices in this area.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2008 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak at second reading of Bill C-27 , An Act to amend the Criminal Code (identity theft and related misconduct).

I believe it is important to debate this matter. With the development of new technologies, we are all confronted, at one point or another, with a situation where we have to identify ourselves by using personal information. For example, we use PINs when doing our banking at an ATM. Just imagine the amount of personal data and the number of financial transactions circulating on the Internet every day. Do we know how businesses and governments manage their immense data bases that contain our personal information? These issues affect everyone, without exception. Our personal information is recorded, catalogued and stored somewhere.

Attempted identity theft is a common occurrence. A thief could find a useful document in your mail. He could use it to pass for you and commit crimes in your name. Scam artists steal names, addresses, and birth dates that they use to apply for loans and credit cards or to open bank accounts in your name. Imagine the damage they could do using your name, not to mention the serious consequences for your reputation and self esteem.

That is why identity theft is a security issue that cannot be ignored. This type of fraud will only grow with the passing of time. Those watching us surely know someone who has been a victim of identity theft. It has disastrous consequences for the victim. It can even lead to misunderstandings with the law because fraudsters can commit crimes and use the identity of their victims. How does an individual whose identity has been stolen prove to the police or government organizations that they were not the one who committed the crime of which they are accused? It is an almost impossible task.

Bill C-27 would curb identify theft by cracking down on the unauthorized collection and use of personal information for illegal purposes. This includes the possession of several private identifiers, such as a name, address, social insurance number, or any personal number that could be used to obtain a service. Bill C-27 would create three new offences that could be punishable by a maximum of five years in prison.

The first offence deals with obtaining and possessing identity information to commit a crime. The second deals with trafficking this personal information and targets individuals who sell or deliberately hand over this information to a third party, knowing that it could be used illegally. The third deals with individuals possessing or trafficking another person's government-issued identity documents.

I remind members that thieves obtain personal information in different ways. Some use direct means, such as highly sophisticated phishing techniques. The RCMP says that criminals also use e-mails or websites that look official, but falsely represent legitimate businesses, financial institutions and government agencies. The goal is to obtain sensitive, personal financial information by phishing the person who receives the e-mail. The public must constantly be vigilant against this type of fraud. This is why people must always be careful when giving out their personal information. They should also find out how their information will be used, why it is being collected, who will view the information and how the information will be protected.

Getting back to Bill C-27, it makes several changes to the Criminal Code in order to curb identity theft. It also creates offences for redirecting mail, the possession of a counterfeit mail key, the possession of instruments for copying credit card data, and the possession of or trafficking in counterfeit documents. In addition, Bill C-27 clarifies the meaning of “personating a person” and renames the offence of “personation” to “identity theft”. It gives the courts a new power to order that, as part of the sentence, the offender make restitution to a victim of identity theft or identity fraud for the expenses associated with rehabilitating their identity.

Finally, the only people exempted are those who make false documents for covert government operations or who allow public officers to create and use covert identities in the exercise of their duties—meaning here law enforcement personnel.

Bill C-27 is intended to keep up with today’s realities because in the near future the identity theft problem is only going to get worse. It is imperative, therefore, to update the Criminal Code and adapt it to current realities as well as possible. According to the Department of Public Safety, identity theft has become one of the fastest growing kinds of crime in Canada and the United States.

I should emphasize, though, that we should be concerned not just about the increase in this kind of crime but also about the costs that we collectively incur as a direct result of this illicit activity.

The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus estimated that in 2002 alone, consumers, banks, credit card companies, stores and other businesses lost $2.5 billion as a result of identity theft. According to the RCMP, the total losses due just to credit card fraud in 2003 amounted to $200 million. The complaints filed with the Phone Busters program of the RCMP and the Competition Bureau provide a good example of the social cost of identity theft. Just in 2006, more than $16 million were stolen from Canadians by fraudsters. Phone Busters estimates, though, that this is still just a small percentage of the real losses due to fraud, perhaps about 5%.

Considering individual human beings, we must remember that victims of identity theft are often left with a compromised credit rating and a messy personal and financial situation. Everyone is affected, without exception.

I remember an Ipsos Reid poll in 2006 according to which one-quarter of Canadians or about 5.7 million people said that they had been victimized by identity theft or knew someone who had been. These figures are very telling and clearly demonstrate the need to update the Criminal Code.

However, we are faced with a fundamental problem: Criminal Code offences were defined at the time with the traditional notion of property. The big problem with identity theft is that personal information is not considered property. To apply the provisions of the Criminal Code, there needs to be a direct causal link with an economic loss or serious harm.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to prove that a crime has been committed in the case of identity theft. Although some 40 provisions of the Criminal Code can apply to identity theft, the fact remains that the simple possession and collection of personal information does not constitute a crime. In this case, the Criminal Code becomes a cumbersome tool for fighting identity theft. Its evidence rules are quite strict as well.

On May 8, 2007, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart, summed up the legal problem with identity theft quite well at the Standing Committee on Access to Information. She said:

I don't think it's just an issue of the Criminal Code. As you know, our law administrators hesitate to use the Criminal Code: the standards of proof are higher, and the charter may apply, and so very often you have to have a fairly clear-cut case to use the Criminal Code.

Bill C-27 is obviously a step in the right direction to updating the Criminal Code, but I want to reiterate that part of solution would definitely come from concerted action involving the different levels of government, private organizations and the public. Other measures will have to be implemented to effectively fight identity theft, since this is a broad issue that goes beyond the government's capabilities.

For example, the Privacy Commissioner suggested using civil sanctions instead of the Criminal Code for two main reasons: proof is easier to establish, and the procedures are easier for the public to understand.

Appropriately, the commissioner gave the example of small claims court, which could offer easily accessible ways to discourage the growing industry of identity theft.

However, the idea presupposes that the federal government will work closely with the provinces, because much of what is happening in the area of identity theft comes under provincial jurisdiction. I would remind this House that a number of solutions to the problem of identity theft are in the provinces' hands, because they have constitutional authority over property and civil rights, specifically under section 92, subsection 13, on property.

However, this minority government still has a long way to go in this area. True to form, this government, which should be working with the provinces to combat identity theft, preferred to make a few changes to the Criminal Code that do little to address the problem. Before giving the provinces new responsibilities for enforcing the Criminal Code, did the government make sure they had the resources to enforce the new provisions on identity theft?

The government should try leading by example when it comes to protecting and managing personal information. The federal government is proposing to penalize people who make fraudulent use of identity documents such as social insurance cards. Yet in June 2006, we learned that the Auditor General estimated there were 2.9 million more social insurance numbers in circulation than the estimated number of Canadians aged 30 and over. It makes you wonder.

What is more, in September 2003, six computers were stolen from the Laval offices of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, including a laptop containing personal information on 120,000 taxpayers and 600 federal taxation employees. I am dismayed by the government's behaviour, which tells me that a number of practices need to be reviewed.

Several federal departments and agencies are interested in identity theft, but these efforts do not seem to have produced a concerted strategy for dealing with this enormous problem. Nonetheless, identity theft is an issue that the federal government cannot tackle on its own, but this should not stop the federal government from developing a more focused strategy for channeling its efforts.

It would also be worth having better definitions of the concepts that identity theft involves. Although the subject has received a great deal of attention from the media, academics, enforcement agencies and government, there is still debate over the definition of identity theft. The term is used to include everything from simple cases of fraud when someone forges a cheque or uses a stolen credit card to purchase goods to very sophisticated cases of “synthetic identity theft” where the impostor creates a new identity using a combination of actual information and fabricated personal information.

Similarly, we do not have a clear idea of the sources of the personal information being used. Some studies have suggested that much of the information comes from within organizations; other studies claim that identity theft is usually perpetrated by people who are known to the victims. Media stories about large scale data breaches in which laptops have been lost or hackers have been able to gain access to credit card information have become commonplace, but we do not have a clear picture of how often these data breaches result in identity theft.

I would nonetheless point out that Canada has privacy legislation that places limits on the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by the private sector. It requires organizations to protect the information they collect. There are several provisions in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) which, if the organizations covered by the Act respect those provisions, can significantly reduce the risk of identity theft.

That Act also imposes limits on how long organizations engaged in commercial activities should retain personal information. By getting rid of information they no longer need, organizations reduce the risk of identity theft. But the destruction process must involve more than throwing paper records or hard drives into the nearest dumpster, as we have seen happen.

I would conclude by saying that the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-27 on second reading so that it can be sent to committee. Nonetheless, I, like my colleagues, strongly believe that merely amending the Criminal Code will not be sufficient to solve the identity theft problem.

Other measures will have to be developed by the various governments to combat this problem. One that we are proposing is that the public be educated in order to reduce victimization. Educating people about how to protect themselves against identity thieves is another key element to fighting this kind of fraud. As well, strengthening the regulations to provide more stringent oversight of how personal information is managed by businesses can only be a good thing.

As a final point, measures to promote greater uniformity and security in the process of issuing and verifying identification documents seem to be essential.

Settlement of International Investment Disputes ActGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2008 / 10:50 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is also the second time I have spoken on this bill. As we already know, from what my colleague from Papineau has said, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-9 in principle.

Passing this bill will mean that Canada can ratify the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States and join the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

Because I will be making frequent reference to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes and the name is a little long, I will call it simply the centre in my speech.

Bill C-9 incorporates the requirements of the convention into domestic law, two reasons being to ensure compliance with arbitral awards and grant the immunities that the centre and its staff need. The centre was created by the World Bank in 1965 under the Treaty of Washington. At present there are 156 member countries. The centre is responsible for arbitrating disputes between a state and a foreign investor.

There are two potential kinds of conflicts: first, there are disputes relating to compliance with bilateral foreign investment protection agreements, and second, there are disputes relating to agreements between governments and foreign investors. These are agreements of the kind that the Government of Quebec and other governments regularly enter into to encourage foreign investment, with the promise, for example, to supply electricity at an agreed price.

Canada’s membership will have no impact on the provinces and Quebec, other than that they will also be able to allow for recourse to the centre when they enter into agreements with investors. The bilateral treaties signed by the federal government already provide for recourse to arbitration by the centre, but by way of the supplementary arbitration mechanism rather than a regular mechanism, which is available only to countries that have ratified the convention.

In fact, the only thing that Canada's joining the centre will change is that it will be able to participate in negotiations to amend the centre's convention or by-laws and will have the assurance that it may participate in appointing arbitration tribunals. There will therefore be direct participation in the centre. Ultimately, the centre is merely a tribunal, and the problem is not the tribunal, but the bad investment protection treaties that Canada signs.

The Bloc Québécois supports signing investment protection agreements as long as they are good agreements, obviously. It is entirely reasonable for an investor to try to ensure, before making an investment, that he or she will not end up losing his or her property, and will not be discriminated against. That is the situation that foreign investment protection agreements are intended to govern. This is not a new phenomenon. The first known agreement containing provisions relating to the protection of foreign investments was the agreement between France and the United States signed in 1788, over two centuries ago.

In May 2007 there were over 2,400 bilateral investment protection agreements in the world. If we add the tax conventions dealing with the tax treatment of foreign investments and income, there are about 5,000 bilateral treaties relating to foreign investments. The Bloc is in favour of signing agreements like this and recognizes that they promote investment and growth. These agreements are all based on more or less the same principles.

The first principle that could be mentioned is respect for property rights regardless of the owner's nationality. Second, there can be no nationalization without fair and prompt financial compensation. Third, there is a prohibition against treating property located within a country's territory differently depending on the owner's origin. Finally, there is free movement of capital resulting from the operation and the disposal of investment.

In every case, when these rights are violated, states may submit disputes over compliance with an agreement to an international arbitration tribunal. In the majority of cases, investors themselves may submit the dispute to an international tribunal, but only with the consent of the state. In many cases, the international arbitration provided in the agreement takes place before the ICSID. By belonging to it, as Bill C-9 provides, we are also agreeing to an international order in the field of investment.

In the investment protection agreements that they sign, only two countries, Canada and the United States, systematically grant investors the right to appeal directly to international tribunals. This is a deviation from the norm. By allowing a company to operate outside government control, it is being given the status of a subject of international law, a status that ordinarily belongs only to governments.

The agreements that Canada signs contain a number of similar deviations, giving multinationals rights they should not have and limiting the power of the state to legislate and take action for the common good. Take, for instance, the now infamous chapter 11 of NAFTA, which provides that a dispute can go to ICSID. There are, however, three things wrong in that chapter: the definition of expropriation, the definition of investor, and the definition of investment.

The definition of expropriation is so vague that any government measure, except for a general tax measure, can be challenged by foreign investors if it diminishes the profits generated by their investments. Indeed, a Kyoto implementation plan which would have large polluters such as oil companies pay dearly could be challenged under chapter 11 and result in government compensation.

American companies have majority interests in Alberta oil companies. Chapter 11 opens the door to the worst kind of abuse of process. The definition of investor is so broad that it includes any shareholder. Anyone could therefore take the state to court and seek compensation for a government measure that allegedly cut into a company's profits.

As for the definition of investment, it is so broad that it even includes the profits that investors hope to derive from their assets in the future. In the case of expropriation, not only does the state find itself forced to pay fair market value, but it also has to include future revenues that investors expected to draw. This would make nationalizing electricity, as Quebec did in the 1960s, impossible.

Take the example of SunBelt, a corporation with one Canadian shareholder and one Californian shareholder. This corporation closed its doors when the Government of British Columbia removed the right to export water in bulk that it had been granted. Under Canadian law, the Canadian shareholder received compensation equivalent to the value of his investment: $300,000. Under chapter 11 of NAFTA, the American shareholder included in his claim all potential future revenue from the sale of water, for a total of $100 million. For better or for worse, the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount that is not likely to ever be disclosed.

Given the amounts of money at issue, chapter 11 acts as a deterrent to any government action, particularly with respect to the environment, whose effect would be to reduce the profits of a foreign-owned corporation. The dispute settlement mechanism allows corporations to apply directly to the international tribunals to seek compensation, without even having to obtain the consent of the state.

Is it conceivable that a multinational corporation would be able, on its own initiative, to instigate a trade dispute between two countries? And yet that is the absurd situation that the chapter of NAFTA on investments allows. Given these flaws, chapter 11 of NAFTA reduces a state’s ability to take action for the common good and to enact environmental legislation, and amounts to a sword of Damocles that can come down at any moment on any legislation or regulations that might have the effect of cutting into corporate profits.

In 2005, the United States changed some of the provisions of their standard investment protection agreement. In 2006, Canada did the same. Because the two countries have now recognized the harmful and extreme nature of chapter 11 of NAFTA, the time is right for the government to act quickly to initiate talks with its American and Mexican partners to amend chapter 11 of NAFTA. We have to say no to bad investment protection agreements.

In addition to chapter 11 of NAFTA, and despite universal criticism of how extreme it is, the government has signed 16 other bilateral foreign investment protection agreements that are carbon copies of it. All of those foreign investment protection agreements are bad and should be renegotiated.

In 2006, the government gave some indication that it recognized that these agreements were bad. The Conservative government copied the changes made by the Bush administration the previous year, and in fact made changes to Canada’s FIPA program to fix some of the most glaring problems. It clarified the concept of expropriation by specifying that a non-discriminatory government measure designed to protect health and the environment and to promote a legitimate government objective should not be considered to be expropriation and should not automatically result in compensation.

It is too soon to assess the actual impact of that clarification, but at first blush it seems to be an improvement. It has narrowed the concept of investment by specifying that the value of property is equal to its fair market value. This puts an end to the madness of adding in all of the potential profits the investor hoped to earn from his or her investment. For the rest, the standard investment protection agreement continues to be modelled on chapter 11 of NAFTA.

The government must continue to improve this standard agreement, particularly as it relates to the dispute resolution mechanism. Multinational corporations must be brought back under public authority, as any individual is.

As well, the government should submit international treaties and agreements to the House before ratifying them. That is what we are being promised and it is what I referred to earlier, but is the purpose really to have a substantive discussion? Is it really a discussion to learn the benefits, the opportunities, perhaps, or the harm that might be caused to certain industries in Canada and Quebec?

Yesterday, the government seemed to be saying that the question of ratification was up for discussion and study, but is it going to ratify without the House having really come down for or against a specific agreement?

Early last year, the government issued a press release announcing that it had just ratified a new foreign investment protection agreement with Peru. Parliamentarians and the public learned about the agreement when they read the release. Parliament was never informed about it. It never approved it. That is completely anti-democratic.

In the last election, however, the Conservative election platform was clear: the Conservatives committed to submitting all international treaties and agreements for approval before ratifying them. That is not what we heard yesterday in this House: what was said was that they would be presented to the House and the House would be made aware of them, but the Conservative members, including the minister, never said that the House was to ratify them.

Since the Conservatives came to power, Canada has ratified about 26 or 27 international treaties. Except for the amendment to the NORAD treaty, which was the subject of a brief last-minute mini-debate and a vote, none of these international treaties were brought before the House.

These days, international agreements can have as great an impact on our lives as laws. Nothing can possibly justify the secretive, unilateral ratification of these agreements by this government without the participation of the representatives of the people.

In the past, the Bloc Québécois introduced bills to restore democracy and ensure respect for the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces in the ratification of international treaties. Given that this is something the government promised to do, we did not bring it up again. However, today we see that a Conservative promise is not worth much.

So the Bloc Québécois will once again take this matter up and will make proposals to bring democracy back into the ratification of international treaties. The government must have an obligation to submit to the House all international treaties and agreements it has signed before ratifying them. The government must be required to publish all international agreements in which it is involved. The government must also allow the House to vote on and approve all major treaties, following study by a special committee responsible for reviewing international agreements, before ratifying them. The government must also respect the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces throughout the treaty-making process at the negotiation, signature and ratification stages.

In conclusion, the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes is needed to ensure that States are treated fairly in their dealings with multinational corporations. We must also ensure that the agreements Canada signs are good ones that respect all stakeholders.

National Sustainable Development ActPrivate Members' Business

December 11th, 2007 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marcel Lussier Bloc Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate today on Bill C-474, the National Sustainable Development Act, introduced by the member for Don Valley West.

I see two objectives in Bill C-474. The first is to develop a sustainable development strategy based on the precautionary principle. The second is to create a position of commissioner of the environment and sustainable development that would be independent of the Office of the Auditor General. The bill also provides for the appointment of a sustainable development advisory council to advise the government on the national sustainable development strategy that will be developed.

I would like to talk about sustainable development and the precautionary principle. It should be noted that sustainable development has not been the credo of the successive federal governments in Ottawa. On the contrary, the federal government, both the Liberals and Conservatives, encouraged the development of the oil sands, a very polluting industry, instead of relying on clean energies or strategies that allow for sustainable development.

Although it is in the news now, the concept of sustainable development is nothing new. The expression “sustainable development” was popularized in 1987 after the publication of a report from the World Commission on Environment and Development entitled, “Our Common Future”. This report defined sustainable development.

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

However, people seem to forget that two concepts are inherent to the notion of sustainable development: the concept of needs and, particularly, the essential needs of the most vulnerable, to whom it is agreed the greatest priority must be given; and secondly, the idea that our technology and social organization can impose limits on the environment’s ability to meet current and future needs.

Thus, sustainable development has more than just one objective, since it has to do with social and environmental equity, not only between citizens, but also between generations. Thus, when we talk about our children, we are talking about our future.

The concept of sustainable development was revisited in 1992 at the famous United Nations conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the conference, a clear message was sent regarding the urgency of reconciling economic and social development, and environmental protection for the simple reason that sustainable development is essential to ensuring the well being of human communities and the preservation of life sustaining ecosystems.

I would now like to discuss the precautionary principle. In the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development that closed the United Nations Conference on the Environment, the precautionary principle was recommended as the best approach to environmental management. Essentially it involves the application of prudent foresight, the recognition of uncertainty and error on the side of caution when decisions must be taken in a domain where knowledge is incomplete.

Further, the approach recognizes that the burden and standard of proof should be commensurate with the potential risks to sustainable use of resources and to the environment. Participants emphasized that a precautionary approach should consider subtle, sublethal effects and not rely only on population impacts.

The precautionary approach has been followed in other areas, in particular for specific resources such as the fisheries and for general issues pertaining to the integrity of the environment. Observing the precautionary principle can translate into environmental assessments, pilot projects, close monitoring of impacts, careful interpretation of data and management tailored to needs.

Once again, be it Liberal or Conservative, the federal government refuses to take a precautionary approach. The most basic approach is often rejected out of hand, and short-term gain takes precedence over future problems. This is true of the Conservative government, which is doing everything it can to reject the Kyoto protocol, even though economists as credible as Britain's Nicholas Stern are saying that it would cost far more to respond to the destructive effects of climate change than to attack the root of the problem now.

GMOs are another perfect example, because the medium- and long-term effects of genetically modified organisms on health and the environment are not yet known. In light of this, the Bloc Québécois has criticized the federal government for refusing to demonstrate transparency with regard to genetically modified organisms, by neglecting to make it mandatory to label foods that are genetically modified or contain genetically modified ingredients so that people are informed and can choose the foods they eat.

Even worse, the federal government still has not adopted the precautionary principle when it comes to GMOs. Given the lack of information about the medium- and long-term effects of GMOs, it is only natural to have concerns. In order to approve a transgenic product, the federal government relies on studies made by companies and merely reviews them. It does not conduct a systematic second assessment of all the plants and foods that are put on the market. Consequently, there is very little public or independent expertise in the evaluation of transgenic foods.

The objective of the Cartagena protocol is to help regulate the transboundary movement, transfer, handling and use of any GMO that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and pose risks to human health. The precautionary principle is an integral part of the Cartagena protocol and a condition of its application, as stipulated in principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted in 1992 at the earth summit in Rio. In the protocol, the precautionary approach is described as follows:

Lack of scientific certainty due to insufficient relevant scientific information and knowledge regarding the extent of the potential adverse effects of a living modified organism on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the Party of import, taking also into account risks to human health, shall not prevent that Party from taking a decision, as appropriate, with regard to the import of the living modified organism in question...in order to avoid or minimize such potential adverse effects.

Nevertheless, the federal government refuses to ratify the Cartagena protocol, ignoring what, to the common sense of Quebeckers, is the most fundamental prudence.

Let us now discuss the second objective of the bill, which deals with the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. In the past, the latter played a useful role in evaluating the government's policies with respect to environmental protection and hence the importance of ensuring complete autonomy in carrying out his responsibilities. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development played an important role in revealing the extent of federal assistance to the oil industry.

In his report tabled in 2000, he brought to the forefront the issue of subsidies to the oil industry.

I simply wish to outline the Bloc's position. We support the principle of Bill C-474; however, amendments will have to be made in future discussions.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

December 11th, 2007 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, this debate gives us a golden opportunity to remind Canadians of the disastrous effects the Conservative government's policies are having on the economy.

Bill C-28 is barely getting any reaction from the Liberal Party of Canada, but that is nothing new. I must admit that as a new member in this House, it is a wonder to me to see how—and my colleague from Toronto just talked about this—some people who are close to the Liberal Party of Canada have managed to pass themselves off as being concerned about poverty and food banks. In fact, the Conservative government is currently granting tax reductions and giving big gifts to the oil companies and the banks. But Liberal members are doing nothing.

If the current government manages to force the passage of Bill C-28 before Christmas by virtue of its seat count, then we will miss out on quite the show. The leader of the Liberal Party of Canada has publicly said that he wants to make sure Canadians understand that, after the holidays, the fun will be over, that he will prove the skeptics wrong, that we will have to hold him back or he might hurt the Conservative Party. What we have seen instead this fall is a Liberal Party of Canada that is keeping the Conservatives in power.

I would like to say a few words about what that means. Before becoming a minister in Quebec for a number of years, I was part of the opposition for nine years. I know what it is like to be in the opposition. The job of the opposition is to do two things: make the government accountable, in other words, be the public's conscience and ask the right questions, but at the same, hope that our policies will one day lead us to power. In other words, it is our job to be a government in waiting.

In the NDP, we have clear policies and we are absolutely ready to be in power. Just look at the depth of talent on the NDP benches in this House. We are a political party with a great number of people who have extensive experience in public administration. It is absolutely extraordinary to see the Liberal members sitting on their hands when they could be defeating the Conservative government if they voted just once with us. But they will not. Why? I guess they must be happy enough with the Conservatives' policies or they would be helping us defeat them.

Day after day, they criticize Conservative policies during question period, and at the end of the day, when the time comes to vote against the Conservatives, the Liberal Party drops the ball. It does not have the political courage to stand up and vote. Last night, we witnessed an unprecedented spectacle in this House during the vote on Bill C-28, which is now before us. This is the Conservatives' Christmas bill, their $14 billion gift to oil companies and banks. Some Liberal members showed up to vote against it because the infamous Atlantic accord was part of this bill.

How many of them showed up? Ten or so. Not even enough to form a party in Parliament. The so-called official opposition can no longer call itself a recognized party in Parliament because the members of the official opposition no longer even show up to vote. They are afraid they might defeat the government on what might be considered a matter of confidence.

People who made the mistake of voting for the Liberal Party of Canada are really questioning that decision. The members of the NDP are telling people to take a good look at our policies and who we are. When I look at my colleagues who were once ministers in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario or, in my case, Quebec, people with a great deal of experience in education, industry, their churches and their communities, I realize that the NDP possesses the kind of wealth and social vision to do a good job of running a government that would renew Canada's reputation as a peacekeeper, international cooperator and environmental steward.

What do we have instead? We have a Conservative government that is embarrassing Canada internationally and that drew us into the quagmire of war in southern Afghanistan. Only the NDP has adopted a clear position against the war in Afghanistan, in favour of the withdrawal of our troops and a comprehensive, stable process for the development and maintenance of lasting peace in Afghanistan.

The Conservatives are embarrassing Canada on the world stage by not trying to achieve an objective that is supposedly shared by all political parties, that is, committing 0.7% of our gross domestic product to foreign aid. In that regard, they are the worst government in the history of Canada since the 0.7% objective was adopted. We are farther than ever from that objective, which is so crucial if we want to help our fellow human beings around the globe.

We need look no further than the conference currently under way in Bali, Indonesia, to understand just how much the Conservatives are embarrassing us. We sent our pitiful Minister of the Environment there to embarrass us. It is bad enough to have to watch his buffoonery here every day when he gets up and talks about a file on which he clearly has not done the least bit of work. He reads quotations and spews nonsense of that nature, when what Canadians really want to know is what will be done to fulfill our obligations to future generations.

Those who have the opportunity should go to McGill University to meet the extraordinary people who work at the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law. These people understand that sustainable development is not just a slogan invented over the past few decades. Sustainable development is a legal obligation we have towards future generations.

Canada ratified the Kyoto protocol five years ago, even though this protocol is celebrating its 10th anniversary today. Because Canada ratified it five years ago, it is part of Canada's domestic law. The Kyoto protocol is an international obligation, but it is an integral part of our law, which means that it is a legal obligation.

The Conservative government prides itself on respecting law and order. Yet this law and order government is becoming irresponsible and even an international outlaw because of its disrespectful behaviour toward future generations. It is casting a shadow over a generation of Canadians who have worked hard to earn our country the utmost respect of the international community when it comes to the environment.

I know that whenever the Kyoto protocol comes up, the Conservatives inevitably point to the seats opposite them and say it is the Liberals' fault, because they did nothing for 13 years. We agree, and we will always agree that the Liberals did nothing. On the contrary, instead of meeting the Kyoto target, which is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 6% compared to 1990 levels, the Liberals saw emissions increase by 33% in the 13 years they were in power. This is shameful, and it is the worst performance in the world.

Eddie Goldenberg, the former Prime Minister 's chief of staff, was kind enough to remind us, during a recent presentation to the London Chamber of Commerce in Ontario, that when the Liberals signed the Kyoto protocol, it was purely because of public opinion. He said that it was to galvanize public opinion. Eddie Goldenberg is admitting that, as was the case with the Kelowna Accord and all other Liberal measures, their actions were exercises in public relations.

This is why the NDP now has such support in Quebec and the other provinces. Citizens realize that the Liberal Party of Canada is but an empty shell, a creature of the 1960s designed to keep Quebec in its place and now being superseded by political parties that understand that what is truly important in life is to look after our neighbours and our society, and that we have to look after our planet.

That is the NDP vision. Unlike the Liberals who have never looked after these interests, unlike the Conservatives who do not wish to do so, and unlike the Bloc who cannot, the NDP is the only political party with representation throughout Canada, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, that speaks to Canadians about real issues.

One of the nicest compliments I received in the recent byelection in Outremont was from someone living at Father Dowd Memorial Home. After my presentation, a severely handicapped gentleman beckoned to me and said something that touched me deeply. He said that it was the first time that a federal candidate had come there and spoken about human beings rather than about the Constitution, or disputes, or differences that too often are the subject of debate in Quebec.

Like those voting in the Outremont byelection, many Quebeckers have realized that the NDP is the only credible party in the House of Commons speaking for peace, the only credible party speaking out against war in Afghanistan, and the only party standing up for the environment. Our leader has a great deal of experience in environmental issues. This very afternoon, he is introducing an important bill that has received support not only from David Suzuki, but also from the Pembina Institute. This bill would put us on the path toward real greenhouse gas reductions so that we can respect the right of future generations to experience the same standard of living, the same quality of life and the same living environment we have experienced. That is what the NDP is all about. We are a political organization that puts people first, unlike the Conservatives.

This brings me back to Bill C-28, which is before us today. The primary goal of this bill is to use State moneys for their intended purpose, that is, to help people, to help with infrastructure, and to help create programs for people. We want to give that money to people. Who do the Conservatives want to give that money to? They want to give it to big oil companies and banks.

The outcome of all this is bizarre because the overheated oil industry pushed the value of the loonie up. Such a high Canadian dollar is making it very hard to export products. As a result, people across Canada are losing their jobs. Many people in New Brunswick and Quebec who work for Shermag have recently lost their jobs. This is not because the company is badly managed. In fact, it is an outstanding company that makes quality products. The Conservative government does not seem to understand that. It has destabilized Canada's relatively stable economy made up of primary resource sectors, processing sectors, a manufacturing sector and, of course, an oil sector based mainly in the west. There was wealth, but there was also balance.

The Conservatives are in the process of killing the manufacturing sector, getting rid of not just workers, which is bad enough. Because of this, many families will have to do without come Christmastime. This is primarily because the Conservatives could not care less about people's lives. They are not interested in helping people. Their only motivation is an economic dogma that has convinced them, even if they are wrong, that the last thing a government should do is get involved in the economy. But by proposing tax cuts, regardless of the size of the business or profits, they are, in fact, getting involved in the economy. Some oil companies in the west would get $40, $50 or even $60 million presents all at once.

These businesses, in western Canada, will earn even more in the oil sector. This will create a greater imbalance in our economy and will destabilize us even more. It will push the dollar even higher, which will cause an even greater drain on the manufactured goods sector of the economy, the industrial sector, particularly in the east, in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

These are good jobs being lost, and the Conservative government does not care at all. It does not care because it does not believe that the government should get involved, any more than it believes the government should get involved in the environment. There are important things to be done with a little vision.

There was a press conference today with the leader of the NDP and Daniel Breton, who is the president of the Coalition Québeckyoto. Daniel Breton is a visionary.

Today, he drew a comparison to what Quebec managed to do in the 1960s, when it decided to be the master of its own destiny. This operation in Quebec, which was called, “Maîtres chez nous”, was decried, castigated and criticized. Some predicted the worst, that this would fail. Some 40 years later, where are we now? We have Hydro-Québec, a government corporation that is a world model of good management. Quebec will be able to produce 4,000 megawatts—or 4,000 times a million watts—thanks to wind energy, now that these projects are being built or have been approved and are going through.

This is clean and renewable energy. With a little vision, a little self-confidence, we could do the same across Canada. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have absolutely no self-confidence and they certainly have no vision. They do not believe for an instant that the government can play a role in this.

This makes me think that if the Conservatives had been in power in Europe during the planning of the high-speed trains, which now crisscross Europe at 300 km an hour, they never would have been built. This required vision and confidence in the fact that government has a role to play and can be a driving force in achieving these big projects.

If our government here in Ottawa had just a bit of vision, Canada could become a world leader in clean and renewable energy. In remote villages the woods were cut a long time ago, but a tremendous amount of forest biomass was left behind. In fact, tens of millions of tonnes of forest biomass was left to slowly release carbon. Instead of allowing that to continue, imagine using infrastructure already in place, namely the roads and bridges that are already built, to transport this forest biomass to what would become a methanol production plant.

We can use ethanol, we can produce wind energy, we can use hydraulic power and wind power to produce hydrogen. We could become a world leader in hydrogen energy, which is clean energy and is renewable for future generations. But no, we are digging up the oil sands. We are in the process of using relatively clean fossil energy, namely natural gas, to melt the sand and extract, at a high environmental cost, the bitumen contained in the oil sands of western Canada. It is outrageous. It is the antithesis of sustainable development. It is absolutely not sustainable. This cannot last long, but such is the Conservative government: it does not believe in the future.

We in the NDP have a vision for the future, a vision that takes into account our primary, unending and inescapable responsibility towards future generations. And we will do everything we can to meet those expectations. We will oppose this government and its far right plans. We will oppose the war in Afghanistan and we are the only ones who oppose it.

Indeed, the Bloc Québécois supports the Conservative government regarding the war in southern Afghanistan until 2009. Its members are still unable to explain why it will suddenly be a bad war in 2009, yet it is not a bad war right now. The Bloc Québécois owes an explanation to voters. Bloc members had a very hard time explaining this in Outremont.

The Liberals are responsible for the debacle in Afghanistan and they are also responsible for the worst performance in the world when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. They too have some explaining to do to voters.The Conservatives, on the other hand, who incessantly hide behind Liberal negligence and incompetence, will have to explain themselves to future generations.

They must stop hiding behind the Liberals to make excuses. They must stop hiding behind the United States, China, India and Brazil and trying to justify the unjustifiable regarding how the oil sands are being developed in the west. It is starting to have a destabilizing effect on our economy and even on the planet. And this government is the primary driving force. We, on the other hand, will do all we can to propose a vision of the future, a vision of hope, a vision that takes into account our obligations towards future generations.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

December 11th, 2007 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak once again to Bill C-28 before us today, even though, as already pointed out in this House, we have already discussed it at length and in detail.

The Bloc Québécois has decided that it will not support the bill for several reasons, particularly because it contains elements with which we do not agree. For example, under the Atlantic accord, revenue from non-renewable natural resources—in essence, oil—will be excluded from the equalization calculation.

We believe that the equalization program should be based on its original principle, which was to ensure that all provinces would have a similar fiscal capacity. When a province has a tax base, no matter what it may be, it should be taken into account in the equalization calculation.

In accordance with this particular agreement for the provinces, namely the Atlantic provinces, excluding non-renewable energy sources, oil, from the calculation gives the advantage to these provinces to the detriment of those with another resource.

For example, if Quebec were to exclude energy from renewable sources, such as hydroelectricity, it would immediately receive very significant equalization payments. However, this could not be justified as it would not respect the principle.

I would like to point out the irony of this to the House. When it comes to equalization, only the Bloc Québécois—a sovereignist party, as everyone knows—is defending the principle behind this program, which is to consider the provinces' fiscal capacity, taking into account all the resources at their disposal in the equalization calculation. This is one reason we are not in favour of this bill.

A number of measures come from the mini-budget, the economic statement introduced this fall. The Bloc Québécois came out against this economic statement, particularly because of what it did not contain. In fact, across Quebec and even in Ontario, the manufacturing and forestry industries are exerting a great deal of pressure and raising the alarm. These industries are asking the government to act immediately.

The government can be as arrogant as it likes, but this is not just a Bloc Québécois request that it can ignore. Not only the industries in Quebec, but Premier Jean Charest are calling for action. Last weekend, Premier Charest again called on the federal government to act and said that it can no longer sit on its hands and do nothing. Even the leader of the official opposition in Quebec City, the Prime Minister's buddy, Mario Dumont, asked what the Prime Minister was waiting for to act.

The government always answers that we will have to wait for the next budget, but we want action now. The government could take strong action even before the end of the session, before Christmas, to help workers in difficulty.

It is a bit pathetic when the Minister of Finance of the optimist party of Canada tells us that everything is just fine. I personally invite the Minister of Finance of the optimist party to come back down to earth and meet the people who are losing their jobs. I have met some people who worked hard all their lives in factories that have now closed. Many of these people live in single-industry cities where the shop—the factory, sawmill or paper plant—is the main employer.

When workers say that nothing is being done to help them and to protect their jobs, what are they told? They are told that the economy is doing well, that everything is just fine, that the unemployment rate is low and that revenues are up. What planet is the optimist party of Canada's Minister of Finance on? It makes no sense to say such things.

In the Standing Committee on Finance, it was even suggested that people who lose their employment in communities in Quebec should just move to Alberta.

Is that any way to treat people who have worked their entire life to build their community? Tell them it is no big deal if they lose their employment since they can move to Alberta where there are jobs?

Sometimes I get the impression that the government wishes people were cattle because it would be easier to move them around. That is not how things work. Recognizing Quebec as a nation does not mean telling people to go to Alberta if they are unemployed. The government has to recognize that people want to live in Quebec.

The government talks a lot about land occupancy. Having people working in towns and communities is part of land occupancy. It is far more important to keep our jobs in our towns and regions for land occupancy than it is to buy icebreakers without debate or discussion for protecting the Arctic.

The government is being rather inconsistent. And yet there are simple, very effective, inexpensive solutions available to the government. Among others, 22 recommendations were unanimously adopted by the Standing committee on Industry, Science and Technology. Even members of the government supported the recommendations. In the recent economic statement, out of 22 measures, only half a measure was implemented.

I would like to speak about two of these measures. The first is accelerated capital cost allowance to invest in equipment that helps businesses increase productivity. This measure is the one being referred to when we hear about the government announcing half of a measure, because the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology recommended that it be implemented for at least five years, if not permanently. But the government implemented it for two years. Obviously, that is not very useful, since in many cases, if a company starts investing today, the investment spans more than two years. In fact, these projects often last up to five years. If the measure spans two years, these companies will not really be able to benefit.

This measure is not very costly; the accelerated capital cost allowance is not a tax giveaway. It makes it possible for businesses to defer taxes over time. So a business would pay lower taxes the year it amortizes more of its equipment. However, once the equipment is completely amortized, it will pay more taxes the year it no longer has a capital cost allowance to deduct from its revenues.

So this measure allows businesses to delay paying taxes when they are experiencing difficulties. What is smart about this type of measure is that it gives our businesses a break so that they have the cash they need to make investments that will help them increase productivity. They will pay taxes when they earn a profit later on.

Similarly, the committee proposed a credit for research and development. This credit already exists, but the committee wanted to make it refundable. Now, if a business is losing money and not earning a profit, it cannot deduct this credit from its taxes, since there is no profit. What does it do? It banks it until money starts coming in again.

In order to help our businesses that need help right now—not five or ten years from now when they are making profits, but now when they are having difficulties—this credit has to be refundable. Companies could claim the tax credit right away. It would be refunded to them even though they are not turning a profit. In any event, these are credits that would be refunded later. Again, this tax is being deferred. We want to give our manufacturing and forestry companies a break to allow them to get back on their feet and increase their productivity. Nonetheless, when they eventually make a profit, then the taxes will be payable. In my opinion, this is not a very expensive solution.

Even though this is a deferred tax, there are costs involved. The Bloc Québécois realizes that. For example, there are costs associated with inflation. A dollar is worth more today than it will be two or five years from now, we know that. However, given the current rate of inflation in Canada, these costs pale in comparison to the benefits this measure could bring.

As far as tax credits for research and development are concerned, under the current system if a company were to declare bankruptcy, these tax credits would never be recovered. Thus, by granting these credits now, the revenue agency would incur more expenses. That is true, but it would be an odd argument for the optimist party of Canada to make, saying that this would cost too much because many businesses would go bankrupt. Indeed, businesses are going to go bankrupt if the government does not take action right now.

I want to emphasize the fact that we have to act now because the government does not seem to understand the urgency of the situation. For example, part of the problem is related to the rise in the Canadian dollar. The repercussions of that are somewhat delayed. As the manufacturers who appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance told us over and over, what we are seeing now is not the impact of parity with the U.S. dollar. It is the impact of a U.S. dollar worth 80¢ Canadian. What we are seeing today is the result of where the dollar stood a year or two ago.

We have not yet seen the catastrophic repercussions of parity with the U.S. dollar. We have not yet seen that, but it is coming. That is why we have to act now to mitigate the effects. The optimist party of Canada would have us believe that businesses just have to increase their productivity and everything will be fine, but that is not the answer.

The value of the Canadian dollar has risen by 40% in a very short time. It shot up from 60¢ to $1. No matter how productive a business is or how creative people are, it is impossible to ask them to boost their productivity to compensate for rising costs in such a short period of time.

That means we need to put transitional measures in place. The government is using its billions of dollars to provide tax cuts for profitable companies, including its oil company friends. But it cannot find a few dollars, perfectly reasonable amounts, to help manufacturing businesses, particularly those that really need it.

I would like to review some of the things manufacturing sector representatives told us when they appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance. In general, they asked us to look at the problem by separating businesses into three groups. The first includes businesses that will survive regardless of the manufacturing crisis, and regardless of the dollar's relative strength or weakness because they are strong and are not experiencing any difficulties. The second group, however, includes businesses that are going through such tough times that no matter what might be done to help them, they will not make it. The third group is in between. Businesses in this critical group might survive if they get some help, but they might have to close up shop if nothing is done to help them.

So, let us look at how the measures proposed by the government in its economic statement will have an impact on these three groups of businesses.

The first measure consists of a general corporate tax cut. For the first group of businesses, those that are getting by and will not have any difficulties, these tax cuts are a welcome gift. They stand to make even more money and are quite happy, with good reason. So much the better, but they are not the ones that need help. As for the second group of businesses, those that might pull through if they are given a boost, in fact, they will not receive any support. They do not even pay taxes, since they are having financial difficulties. Thus, the government measures would do absolutely nothing for them. Of course, the same is true for the third group of businesses.

Let us consider instead the measures proposed by the Bloc Québécois, measures that were unanimously supported by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. Let us look at the impact those measures would have on the three groups. Such measures include an accelerated capital cost allowance and refundable tax credits for research and development.

For the first group, businesses that are doing well and having no problems, there would be no change. Whether tax credits are refundable or not, they would have them the same year and this would not change a thing, since they were already turning a profit. As for an accelerated capital cost allowance, this would allow them to save a little on taxes this year, but they would have to pay it back a little later. Thus, there is no need to give billions of dollars to companies that are already doing well.

However, these measures can make a difference to the second group, which is in difficulty but has a fighting chance. Our targeted measures will become effective in this case. To get through the crisis, companies essentially need two things: better productivity and ready cash. That is exactly what these measures will give them. They will improve companies' productivity, because they will let companies invest now in research and development and in equipment to become more profitable. They will also give companies ready cash, because they will allow companies to defer paying taxes. Thus, companies will have the money they need now to get through the crisis. This seems far more effective than the government's strategy for these companies, which is to give them no help at all.

Obviously, in the case of the third group I mentioned—companies that will not make it through the crisis and will have to close—we will be giving them assistance that, unfortunately, will be lost. However, we cannot tailor our policy to companies that will go bankrupt and will not be able to recover, especially since if we do nothing, there will be a great many companies in this group. If we do something, we will be able to help many companies that otherwise would have gone bankrupt or been forced to close. We can bring them into the group that can weather the crisis.

I therefore wanted to demonstrate that the government did not have a real reason for not providing assistance to the manufacturing sector in the mini-budget or economic statement. It was surprising to see, among other things, the position of the Conservatives who ran in the last byelection in regions where the forestry sector difficulties are being experienced. They promised voters that having an MP in power would solve their problems. We now find ourselves with an economic statement that does absolutely nothing for the manufacturing and forestry sectors in crisis. When citizens, for example from Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, heard their candidate make promises and tell them that he would help companies in order to save their jobs, everyone thought he would help those businesses that needed help. No one thought Alberta oil companies would get the help. That was a bit of false representation that occurred during the byelection.

It is deplorable, if not pitiful, to see members elected in a byelection on the promise that if they are in power they will move things along stand up and vote for an economic statement that does not contain a single measure for troubled companies in the forestry sector. Even worse, when we tabled a motion asking the government to take immediate action, we saw these same members stand and vote against it and against the campaign promises they made in their riding.

I hope, and I am confident, that Quebeckers will remember this when the next election is held. They will remember that, in tough times, the Bloc Québécois is always prepared to stand up and defend them. The Conservative members from Quebec always boast about the government that is so good and fine, but when the time comes to show some determination and to vote in this House to have some real influence and to change things, they fail to deliver. Only the Bloc Québécois takes up the challenge.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

December 10th, 2007 / 4:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise here in the House today to speak to Bill C-28 to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament in March 2007. Some additions were also made in the economic statement of October 30, 2007. I will come back to that a little later, with some comments.

The main reason I rise here today is to have a closer look at the situation. It seems to me that my colleagues across the floor, the Conservatives, have really missed the boat when it comes to addressing the whole manufacturing and forestry crisis.

To this, we must also add the whole question of the employment insurance crisis. Upon reading the various elements of the government's budget contained in Bill C-28, one must wonder where the extra support is for workers.

For several months now—in fact, since the Conservatives came to power in Ottawa in January 2006—the reality has been that more and more jobs hare being lost every day, every week and every month. In the meantime, we have a Conservative government that is doing absolutely nothing to help our workers. What does this really mean? It means the families are not being supported.

These families are in crisis. The holidays are just weeks away. For several weeks now, plants have been closing one after the other. What does that mean? Lots and lots of lost jobs. Who is suffering as a result? Families. The children of these men and women who work so hard to ensure a better future for their children.

I remember how hard I fought to get the additional five weeks of employment insurance. I practically had to get down on my knees in front of the Conservative government to make it possible for our people to benefit from supplementary assistance during very hard times, especially people who work in seasonal industries.

Let us take a look at what has happened in the past few months. Conservative members have been saying that the country is doing well, that there are lots of new jobs, that everyone is working and that there is no economic crisis. I would invite them, as I have invited the Prime Minister, to come to my riding, Madawaska—Restigouche. They should not make it a little side trip that they can cancel at the last minute. They should come to Madawaska—Restigouche and meet the people who are losing their jobs week after week. Maybe then the Prime Minister and the Conservatives will understand what a dire situation this country is in. This is not a local phenomenon. This is not just a crisis happening in one region. This is happening across the country.

I would like to list some of the companies that are in crisis and that are cutting hundreds, if not thousands of jobs in the riding of Madawaska—Restigouche and across the country.

Here are some examples: WHK Woven Labels in Edmundston; Atlantic Yarns in Atholville; and AbitibiBowater, a pulp and paper mill in Dalhousie.

Today, a new disaster hit the manufacturing sector. Shermag in Edmundston and Saint-François de Madawaska announced it would be closing plants. This means lost jobs, and that is unacceptable.

How long have we been asking the Conservative government to take action? For a long, long time. Actually, we have been asking since they took power. We have been telling them to get ready and do something. Our workers must get help. Businesses must receive support in order to save our jobs.

However, cutting taxes is not necessarily the only way to support businesses. If a business is not paying taxes because it is experiencing financial difficulties, what good is a tax cut? It does not pay taxes. This does nothing for that business.

We must save what we have so that employees can continue to work today, tomorrow, a year from now or 10 years from now. Today, the Conservatives are showing that they would rather have a business shut down. They are saying that it is no big deal and keep telling Canadians that everything is fine.

The people in my riding of Madawaska—Restigouche have known for a while that things are not going well. As the Conservatives continue to tell people in my area that things are going well, I am looking forward to seeing what happens to them during the next federal election. The reality is that the government must help people everywhere.

It just so happens that an AbitibiBowater plant closed in Quebec as well, in Shawinigan. However, the Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is unable to find one red cent to help the plant, the workers, and the region of Dalhousie. It is absolutely despicable to act that way in such situations. In the meantime, other regions where the Conservatives are perhaps trying to buy something or other, or are at least hoping to win votes, are managing to get a bit of help. If they can receive help, why is the Conservative government simply not able to help everyone in the country?

Is it perhaps because we are talking about Atlantic Canada? Hon. members will recall the Prime Minister's comments about our defeatist attitude before he became Prime Minister. Is that why the Atlantic region is currently having problems? Is that why the Conservatives are giving absolutely nothing to help the Atlantic regions and their manufacturing and forestry industries? That is how we see it.

What is more, the country is bursting with surpluses, but it is unable to help people. The surplus was $11.6 billion for the first six months of the year. The public grasps the scope of that number. In the meantime, the Conservative government cannot give one red cent to help the manufacturing and forestry industries.

All of a sudden we hear ministers, including the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Finance, telling us not to worry, that help is on the way because the budget is coming. However, here is proof that this help will come too late. Bill C-28 that we are debating today is entitled An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2007 and to implement certain provisions of the economic statement tabled in Parliament on October 30, 2007. This is December; why is it that we are still dealing with matters the government has not resolved since the budget was brought down in March? Even if the next budget provides help, how long will it take before our regions, our businesses and our workers finally get the help they need? Six months, a year, two years, ten years?

This government is all talk and bluster. However, when the time comes to present concrete measures, where are they? Let the Conservatives take note that this is the proof. In December we are still discussing what the Conservatives proposed in the March budget. Our citizens need help now, not in 10 years.

This is exactly what we are going through right now. We have a Conservative government that does not want to take any kind of action, while people everywhere in my riding, in the various plants and mills that I mentioned, need help. And that does not even include all the job losses in all the other companies and those yet to come because of the Conservative's inaction. We can imagine all the other indirect jobs that will be lost. In fact, we are discussing direct jobs, more than 1,000 to date. This number can definitely be doubled when we take into account all the indirect jobs in the companies that provide services to these primary businesses.

How will we help workers in the future? For one thing, we must provide immediate assistance to workers and their families. We must ensure that existing buildings and equipment continue to be used—we call that hibernation. We need to find other solutions. The Conservatives will not do that. It will be up to us, the ordinary citizens, to find solutions while the government resists taking any kind of action.

In addition, we must ensure that the government provides assistance to communities. Look at Dalhousie, for example. Not just the city of Dalhousie, but all of Restigouche will suffer. Not just this area, but the entire Madawaska region will suffer because of the closing of the Shermag plants in Edmundston and Saint-François-de-Madawaska. We must be able to provide assistance to every community so they can get through the crisis. Had the Conservatives listened at the right time, we would not be at this point.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

December 10th, 2007 / 3:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

The report is in regard to its order of reference of Thursday, November 1, 2007, Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (expanded voting opportunities) and to make a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act.

The committee has considered Bill C-16 and reports the bill with amendments.

Youth Criminal Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2007 / 11:10 a.m.
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Bloc

Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in the debate at second reading on Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse).

Essentially, Bill C-423 adds two new provisions to this act to flesh it out more with respect to young addicts.

Briefly, the bill introduced by the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont provides that a police officer must, before starting judicial proceedings or taking any other measures under this act against a young person alleged to have committed an offence, consider whether it would be sufficient to refer the young person to an addiction specialist for assessment and, if warranted, treatment recommendations.

Bill C-423 would also add a clause at the end of section 6 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act stipulating that if the young person enters into a treatment program as a result of such a referral and fails to complete the program, the outcome may be the start of judicial proceedings against that young person.

In my opinion, Bill C-423 is a welcome change from the justice bills introduced by this government since it came to power. Instead of the usual Conservative “law and order” ideology that, under the pretext of protecting public safety, would send more people to prison without reducing the root causes of crime, Bill C-423 offers valid alternatives to incarcerating minors, which is more important.

To all those who are watching us, I want to say that a strictly punishment-oriented public safety strategy will never make our societies more vibrant or our prisons less overpopulated. In my opinion, when young people become involved in the criminal justice system, it can exacerbate the problem and be very costly. These are negative results that have an impact not only on the individual involved, but on society as a whole. This situation must therefore be avoided whenever possible.

Consequently, the approach taken by Bill C-423 is commendable: the bill presupposes that prosecution is the final step in the fight against crime and is warranted only if all other valid options have been tried. This bill could reduce the number of young people in court and consequently the number of youth in our penitentiaries.

I would also like to remind all of my distinguished colleagues here in this House that prison will always be a crime school, a place where individuals harbour lingering, disgruntled resentment toward society. The decision to incarcerate an individual should be based on the seriousness of the crime committed and on how dangerous the criminal is.

That is why I have always promoted “restorative justice”, an idea supported by the Bloc Québécois that seeks to rehabilitate the offender by creating awareness of the seriousness of the crime and by repairing the damage done to the community or the people affected.

Not only does Bill C-423 attempt to keep young addicts from appearing before a court, it calls on the law enforcement community to use good judgment in order to give an offender a second chance. In a way, it emphasizes the confidence that we have in police officers and their duty to ensure a safer society.

This is an interesting element that would reinforce a positive image of police forces in public opinion. It is also in line with section 6 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which gives police officers the option to keep young offenders out of court by making it possible to choose another remedy, such as a drug treatment program.

However, I do have some concerns about this bill. With respect to the provisions in Bill C-423, we must ensure that the provinces are responsible for providing these drug treatment programs. For example, in Quebec, these programs are administered through health and social services agencies. Sufficient resources must be made available to offer the treatments called for in this bill.

I am also a little confused about how effective this bill can be within the framework of the minority government's vision for justice. I think that the intent behind Bill C-423 would be directly or indirectly affected by the new anti-drug strategy announced on October 4. I think that this approach, which is a repressive one, as usual, does not acknowledge the importance of prevention in the war on drugs.

Also, it is unfortunate that so little money, only approximately $10 million, is being allocated to measures to ensure the rehabilitation of our young people.

With that in mind, it would be nice to see this government take greater inspiration from the ideas proposed by the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont in the context of Bill C-423. His proposals should resonate even more within his caucus, which focuses too much on a repressive ideology centred on an illusion of safety that, unfortunately, did not produce the desired results for our neighbours to the south in terms of effectively reducing crime.

Once again, as I was saying earlier and as I have said during several debates on previous bills, specific realities are breeding grounds of crime and drug use. One such reality is poverty, which appears even more obvious to us now, with the holiday season just around the corner. Like my colleagues, I firmly believe that a greater sharing of riches, working toward better social integration and emphasizing rehabilitation represent essential solutions for the prevention of crime and substance abuse. Unfortunately, this government always has that unproductive tendency to ignore those approaches. It thinks it can achieve security by filling the penitentiaries.

In any case, I would like to conclude by emphasizing the noble intention of the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont. In my opinion, this bill offers an important balance between rehabilitation and the vigilance needed when people refuse to take advantage of opportunities presented to them. It also respects the tenets I listed earlier regarding ways to reduce crime, giving young substance abusers a second chance by taking part in a detox program.

I would remind the House that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of initiatives that propose serious alternatives to incarceration, especially when it comes to minors. This is why we will support Bill C-423, so it may be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for further study.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

December 4th, 2007 / 1:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am a little surprised. I thought my hon. colleague would be asked some questions.

I am happy to indicate my position and speak to this important bill. I would like to begin by saying that is it rare for the government to come up with a bad bill when it consults people and seeks the approval of those who would be affected by the bill.

In the case before us, Bill C-30, which involves establishing a tribunal, was drafted in cooperation with first nations peoples. It therefore has the full approval of first nations peoples, who have been waiting for this tribunal for far too long. It is unfortunate—and I say this with all due respect for the minister, who is listening carefully—that the same thing was not done for Bill C-21 and, even before that, first nations peoples were not consulted before Bill C-44 was introduced.

That being said, this is an important bill and the Bloc Québécois will support it, so that it may be studied in detail by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Indeed, this bill deserves a great deal of attention. When I say this, I do not mean that we should drag out our committee work in order to play for time and take longer. No, that is not what I mean.

We think some pointed questions must be asked in relation to this bill. My hon. colleague from the Liberal Party just raised one or two of them and I will raise some more in a few minutes. However, all interested and relevant individuals who wish to appear before the committee must be heard.

Personally, I think this bill should be approved by the committee as soon as possible. A consensus must be reached. It certainly will not happen before Christmas. I would very much like to be able to offer this as a Christmas gift to first nations peoples this year, but it would be unrealistic to think that we might study this before Christmas, considering the work that needs to be done on Bill C-21. At the very least, however, as soon as we resume in January, we must begin studying this bill immediately and give it our support.

In our opinion, this bill meets one condition. We have always been against one thing. We are talking about the federal government as a whole. When a first nation files a financial or other claim with the federal government, the government is in clear conflict of interest. This is really a conflict of interest. It is both judge and defendant, at least, we hope, until this bill is adopted. It used to be that the federal government as a whole received the claim. The government also set the dates and parameters for examining the claim. It set the dates, times and locations for hearing witnesses, and it paid the bill for the process.

It was clearly in the interest of some first nations to make claims that might be frivolous, but these claims very often took forever to be settled.

I listened carefully to the minister when he spoke earlier. He said that three or four years was far too much time to take to study, analyze, consider and settle a claim for $1 million, $2 million or $3 million.

When a criminal case is before the courts—and God knows I was often in court as a lawyer over the years—the case cannot go on for four years unless it is an exceptional and extremely lengthy case. In fact, only rarely does it take more than three years for a case like the ones I argued to be heard in superior court. So why could it take three, four, five, six or even seven years to hear an aboriginal claim?

I have a note here that I believe is very important. Since 1973, more than 30 years ago, 1,297 specific claims have been filed. Of those, 513 have been settled for amounts ranging from $15,000 to some $12,250,000, the average settlement being approximately $6 million. You cannot take 30 years to settle claims. It makes no sense. Today, on this lovely December 4, 2007, 784 claims are still pending, awaiting a decision, even though it has been a long time since 1973. The mere mention of these figures should help get this bill passed relatively quickly. It deals with important issues.

In fact, there are two issues that, in the opinion of the Bloc Québécois, deserve special attention. The first is whether a judge who hears a claim could unilaterally assign responsibility for paying that claim to a party if that party was not present. The debate is not clear on this issue. I asked the minister about it and he replied, but I believe we will have to take the discussion a bit further. This is an important point.

The example that comes to mind immediately is that of the Kitigan Zibi, in Maniwaki, which filed forestry and financial claims with the governments of Quebec and of Canada. What would happen if the Algonquin nation of Kitigan Zibi sued the federal government, the judge ruled against the government, held it 75% responsible and required that 25% be paid by Quebec? What would we do given that Quebec was not a party to the suit? That would be an interesting discussion and I hope we will be given an answer in committee.

As it has a fiduciary responsibility for the first nations, and as it is both a judge and a party in these cases, would the government not be tempted to require that a first nations community reduce the amount of its claim if it wanted the government to continue providing assistance for education, health care, water systems and police services? How can we ensure that the judge who must rule in the case will be completely neutral, completely independent and have full control of the evidence before him? This is a crucial point.

If we wish to maintain a good relationship with the first nations—and this bill is a good step in that direction—we believe it is important and vital to ensure that the tribunal is completely in charge of evidentiary matters. The bill has some interesting sections; however, would the federal government, with fiduciary responsibility for the first nations, not be tempted to ask them to compromise if they wished to continue to receive funding in other areas? Therefore, we must ensure that the tribunal will be completely independent and have control of the evidence.

I do not want to address everything in the bill because that would take me 10 minutes, but I want to talk about clause 15, which excludes many claims that first nations might be inclined to take to court.

For example, clause 15(1)(d) would not allow them to submit claims concerning:

—the delivery or funding of programs or services related to policing, regulatory enforcement, corrections, education, health, child protection or social assistance—

There is sure to be some debate about that. What would it mean for a community such as Kashechewan in northeastern Ontario that does not have access to the same health services as communities such as Kitigan Zibi near Maniwaki, Mashteuiatsh near Roberval and Essipit near Les Escoumins?

What can be done to ensure appropriate levels of service? Take for example something that happens all too often: a woman gives birth and loses the baby for want of adequate care. She will not be able to make a claim for having lost her baby. There will be some interesting debates to come.

In closing, I want to emphasize that the provision concerning the finality of the decision made by the two parties must remain in the bill. The decision cannot be subject to appeal. When the two parties appear before the court, they need to know that the decision will be final. They must be prepared when they go to court; they need to know where the file stands. The file must be ready and complete, and the judge can hand down a decision that is binding on both parties—the federal government and the first nation—as well as all other parties to the case.

The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of Bill C-30 because it is a step in the right direction. We would like to see the government do this more often, undertake more frequent and thorough consultations with first nations before drafting bills so that we do not have to protect first nations against the government and its flawed bills that are not ready for debate.

Consequently, I would invite the House to vote in favour of this bill at the close of debate.

Canada Marine ActGovernment Orders

December 4th, 2007 / 10:40 a.m.
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Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Alfred-Pellan talked about one of the goals of this bill, which is to improve the navigability of the St. Lawrence and everything related to it.

I would like to ask him what this means for what I would call the St. Lawrence-eastern Quebec corridor. I am sure he will understand why: my riding and my region are in that area.

I would like to know if Bill C-23 will have a direct or indirect impact on port infrastructure belonging to the federal government, be it Fisheries and Oceans Canada or Transport Canada. I am talking about the entire east coast, both the north and south shores of the St. Lawrence. Given that the government still owns much of this infrastructure, it is responsible for it. Fishing is not the only kind of business that goes on there. The federal government is carelessly neglecting its duty.

I would like to know how Bill C-23 addresses this issue: superficially or in depth?

Canada Marine ActGovernment Orders

December 4th, 2007 / 10:20 a.m.
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Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure for me to rise here today to speak to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Marine Act, the Canada Transportation Act, the Pilotage Act and other Acts in consequence. The purpose of the strategic framework for Canadian federal ports, established in 1995, was to eliminate excess capacity and create a new governance structure in order to support a more trade-focused system. International trade changed the context in which the federal ports were operating.

A review committee consulted various stakeholders and prepared a report, which was tabled in the House of Commons in June 2003. The report listed a number of recommendations that were fully endorsed by Canadian port authorities.

The principal concern identified during the review focused on the marine sector's financial flexibility, especially for port authorities, in order to maintain economic viability and respond effectively to changing market demand, as well as access to federal funding for infrastructure investment.

In terms of funding, Canadian port authorities cannot rely only on their operating revenues and private lenders. They do not have access to most federal funding. Industry observers have pointed out that Canadian port authorities, because of their structure, are hindering their own ability to procure the necessary funding for investments, which would allow them to maintain or improve their competitiveness. They can ask to have their borrowing limit raised, but a lack of real property to offer as collateral makes lenders nervous.

The bill before us today aims to strengthen the operating framework for port authorities by modifying the current borrowing regime, providing for access to contribution funding, and clarifying some aspects of governance.

The Bloc Québécois believes that this bill will increase the competitiveness of the St. Lawrence by maintaining and improving the port infrastructure required to develop the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes trade corridor. At the same time, this will also promote intermodal transportation and benefit the environment.

The Bloc's key concern with this bill is the competitiveness of the St. Lawrence River, which has always been a major asset to Quebec's development. It is closely linked to the economic development of all its regions. Eighty percent of Quebec's population lives on the shores of the St. Lawrence and over 75% of its industry is found there. The strategic location of industries in relation to the St. Lawrence River means it can be used for nearly all international trade outside the United States.

When considering the St. Lawrence Seaway in the North American context, the importance of its economic impact becomes even more obvious. Indeed, the St. Lawrence River provides privileged access to the heart of North America. It not only allows access to 90 million inhabitants and the industrial heartland of the United States, Canada and Quebec, but it also provides a shorter route for major European carriers. For example, the distance between Montreal and Rotterdam is 5,813 km while the distance between New York and Rotterdam is 6,154 km.

This strategic asset is the reason the Canadian and American governments have done much work since the start of the industrial age to provide easier access to the Great Lakes for international carriers. In 1959, the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway provided greater access to Lake Ontario and the rest of the Great Lakes.

The St. Lawrence Seaway is underutilized, however. The total amount of goods transported via the St. Lawrence dropped from 130 million tonnes in the early 1980s to approximately 100 million tonnes 10 years later, only to hover around 105 million tonnes since.

However, in the past 30 years, shipping has increased by 600% worldwide. Closer to home, the Mississippi system, which competes directly with the St. Lawrence, has seen its annual traffic go from 450 million to 700 million tonnes. Seaports on the east coast of the U.S. have also seen a steady rise in traffic.

A similar trend is affecting traffic going through the St. Lawrence Seaway. After reaching a high of 70 million tonnes, the quantity of goods being transported via the seaway stabilized around 50 million tonnes per year. This is due to different factors, mainly the fact that the St. Lawrence Seaway is not competitive, because of Ottawa's failure to pay attention to marine infrastructure in Quebec, particularly along the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes trade corridor.

Moreover, at a time when marine transportation is increasingly important to international trade, the federal government has been slow to take steps to make the St. Lawrence more competitive. I should mention that this sector of Quebec's economy faces extremely stiff competition from American ports.

Marine transportation plays a key role in the global economy, with nearly 90% of trade taking place by ship.

The importance of marine transportation is also growing with globalization. Internationally, marine transportation represents nearly 400 million tonnes of goods annually, with a total value of more than $80 billion. It is estimated that marine traffic will triple in volume in the next 20 years because of globalization. There is enormous potential there, and the ports along the St. Lawrence must be equipped to benefit from this growth.

Despite favourable economic conditions, Quebec is faced with strong competition from American ports. For example, container traffic has grown far more in the ports south of Washington than in Montreal. An important reason for this is the way American ports are funded. American ports have access to a number of sources of public and private funding. In addition to their operating revenues, major U.S. ports can issue bonds—some tax-exempt—take out loans, apply for subsidies and receive money from all levels of government. Many can collect property taxes, and few have to pay any money to the government.

By enabling the port authorities in Quebec to amalgamate, receive federal funding and take out commercial loans for infrastructure improvements, Bill C-23 will help ports compete more effectively against the ports on the American east coast.

In the past few years Ottawa has given Canada's west coast a number of financial benefits for developing the Pacific gateway and opening it for trade with Asia. There is also increasing talk about setting up an Atlantic gateway, to be located in Halifax, to ensure trade with the eastern United States.

What about the plan for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade corridor, which is a matter of priority to the St. Lawrence Economic Development Council, or SODES? This concept of the trade corridor is based on an obvious fact. The ports along the St. Lawrence must establish a common strategy for facilitating the most efficient transport of goods possible amongst themselves and towards the destination markets. The competition is no longer among Montreal, Quebec City, Sept-Îles or the other St. Lawrence ports, for their share of global marine traffic. They are competing against the American ports, and that is the competition they must face.

It is therefore important for users and stakeholders of the St. Lawrence to join forces to make the most of their assets and improve what is called the “logistics chain” in order to make the river and its estuary a quintessential trade corridor.

Such development must focus on the complementarity and advantages of each port and on the complementarity between the different modes of transportation. The obstacles and bottlenecks that slow down the movement of goods must be identified in order to prioritize the investment needed to correct those slowdowns.

The primary challenge is to get not just the port authorities and the regional ports, but also the carriers, namely the railway companies, to buy in to this concept.

The railway companies and the trucking companies do not have a history of cooperating. However, cooperation is essential to the development of the trade corridor, as we can see from Vancouver's example.

The St. Lawrence Economic Development Council, SODES, through the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes Gateway Council, is giving these matters a great deal of thought, as is the Comité interrégional pour le transport des marchandises for the Montreal area.

The Government of Quebec supports this initiative since it has injected $2.6 million into the marine transportation support program and has released $21 million for the assistance program for modal integration in order to facilitate the rehabilitation of strategic marine and rail infrastructure.

The federal government has to do its part too. Once Bill C-23 is passed, it will make a modest contribution to the development of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade corridor. As such, the government should provide the same level of political and financial support to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade corridor as it does to the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor initiative.

The signing of a memorandum of understanding between Ottawa, Quebec and Ontario in July 2007 was a first step toward implementing an action plan. Over the next two years, partners in the public and private sectors will collect and share data to guide future multi-modal strategies, projects and investments. This is a step in the right direction, but it is still far from the billion dollars invested in the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative.

We are not opposed to federal initiatives to support the Pacific gateway, but the federal government should also be supporting similar efforts to develop the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade corridor.

I would now like to turn to an aspect of maritime transportation that is of special interest to me because it has a major impact on environmental protection. I am talking about intermodal transportation that promotes cabotage on the St. Lawrence. By supporting investment in infrastructure belonging to Quebec's port authorities, Bill C-23 supports intermodal transportation.

How can we make the best use of the unique characteristics of maritime transportation while respecting the private sector's need for fast, low-cost transportation?

Europe came up with an answer because traffic on its road system exceeded capacity. This is also happening in the rest of the world, particularly in the United States.

The solution is intermodal transportation, which is growing at a phenomenal pace thanks to the increased use of standardized containers. Intermodal transportation combines energy efficiency with the rapid transportation of goods.

For the past few years, intermodal transportation has been getting some attention from both private and public sectors. Since 2001, the Government of Quebec has made developing intermodal transportation a priority in its maritime transportation policy. It has invested $1.5 million in an intermodal transportation project at the port of Sept-Îles.

Right now, concrete initiatives designed to develop a real intermodal transportation network are being implemented in several regions of Canada and Quebec.

As you can see, Quebec is well ahead of the Conservative government in this matter. Other intermodal transportation projects are moving forward. For example, there is the Kruger project which transports 300,000 tonnes of wood chips per year by barge from Ragueneau and Forestville to Trois-Rivières. This use of the St. Lawrence will replace 18,000 truck trips per year.

At present, only one quarter of the vessels using the river engage in cabotage or short sea shipping. All stakeholders in this area confirm that this type of transportation has considerable development potential. Therefore, developing intermodal transportation is a very important option for Quebec for the economic development of the St. Lawrence River.

Bill C-23 will allow the use of certain port facilities in the regions and will also maximize the use of the rail network, which has some underutilized lines. This will be the primary means of developing the St. Lawrence Seaway corridor and ensuring that it becomes the true gateway for goods from the Atlantic.

As we can see, this mode of transportation is more environmentally friendly than current modes used. Transportation is responsible for one quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions resulting from marine transport of goods represents only 1.25% of this total; road and rail transport combined produce 9% of these emissions.

Studies have shown that marine transportation is safer, uses less fuel and produces fewer emissions per tonne-kilometre than rail or truck transportation.

Marine transportation uses only 10% to 20% of the fuel consumed by road transportation. One tonne of freight can travel 240 kilometres by ship on a single litre of fuel. By train, it will travel less than 100 km and by truck, the distance is even smaller, only 30 km. The future of marine transportation depends on recognizing its environmental advantages.

The Bloc Québécois obviously supports this bill because it will foster the economic development of the St. Lawrence River and will help to protect our environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada Marine ActGovernment Orders

December 3rd, 2007 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-23. In a way, we have been waiting for this bill for a long time, and we hope the wait will have been worthwhile.

This bill is about ports across the country, from Vancouver to Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and Saint John, New Brunswick. This is of particular interest to me because a port development is under way in northeastern New Brunswick, and this is of critical importance to people in the region.

As everyone knows, my riding, Acadie—Bathurst, in northeastern New Brunswick, may have the highest unemployment rate around. How many times have people in the House said that the member for Acadie—Bathurst should talk about something other than employment insurance? Well, this is one way to invest in a very important port that has been ignored all along compared to all of the other ports in Canada. The Bloc Québécois member said that we must not forget the port of Montreal. But it has no debt and plenty of money, so it is not a problem.

But in our case, it is quite the opposite; we are talking about developing a port. For example, Belledune just outside my riding of Acadie—Bathurst, right at the end of Chaleur Bay. If people bother to look at a map, they will see that Chaleur Bay is in a direct line with Europe. The water there is deep and there is no ice. There is no need for icebreakers to let the ships pass in the winter and no cost involved. Even so, the government bills us for an icebreaker, just as it bills the other ports. Yet we do not need one at the port of Belledune. This really hampers the economic development of the region and this port.

When Canada was a new country, the Atlantic was prosperous. Then prosperity spread west of the Atlantic, to Quebec, Montreal and Toronto. Then it spread to all the Great Lakes, where it is warm, and it went on from there. But Canada was really formed in the Atlantic region. It is important to remember that the Acadians were the first people to come to Canada from Europe. We celebrated our 400th anniversary two years ago. That proves that we were the first.

In our discussions today, It is sad to see that the Atlantic has now been forgotten, especially northeastern New Brunswick. There is a port in Saint John and one in Halifax. The port in Belledune is a new port with incredible potential.

As I said, Europe is in a straight line from Chaleur Bay, and at the end of that bay is Belledune. Looking at the map, it is not difficult to imagine that shipping could continue on to the United States, for example, if there was a good road to get there. Why should ships make a huge detour to get to the United States when the port of Belledune in northeastern New Brunswick is in a direct line with Europe and the United States?

Bill C-23 also permits ports to take out loans. That is welcome news. But I believe that the committee should study the bill to do whatever it can to help them as much as possible.

In the past, the government decided to turn the ports over to the port authorities.

The ports were transferred to the communities and the Liberal government, which was in charge at the time, backed away from them. It did not provide the money needed to keep the ports in good shape. It was not just the port of Vancouver or the big ports where goods are brought in and shipped out. It also involved the ports for the fishery, all the small ports. The government did nothing for years and years.

Last year we were arguing about a job that needed to be done at the Miller Brook port in my riding. It had a drought this year and the boats had to be dragged into port because there was not enough water. The dredging was not even done. It was unbelievable. I am telling the truth when I say that the boats had to be dragged in the sand to bring them inside the port.

It has created a situation where the people are afraid when they see a storm. What would they do if they were outside the port and at any time during the night wanted to come in but could not because the tide would be out?

The port has been forgotten for many years. Today it has become a big cost to the community and to the fishermen. It is like having a house. If the owner does not look after it, in no time it is no good anymore. Repairs need to be done as we go along and we need to keep it in good shape.

Looking at our small fishing ports, one might imagine that the government had not made them a priority. It transferred the ports to the communities, but now the ports are in such a state they can be wiped out by the least storm that blows through.

I will give an example. A few years ago, a storm hit Petit-Rocher. The port had been in need of additional protection. Those responsible argued with governments to add protection from the wind and from November's huge fall tides so as not to lose our wharves. The governments refused. The storm was quite big. A 30-foot wave crashed in and shifted the Petit-Rocher wharf over by one foot. The repairs cost $550,000, or the whole wharf would have been lost. The fishers could not fish. They had to set up rocks to prevent the water from hitting the wharf again and breaking it. That doubled the cost. Repairs need to be done as they come up and not put off until disaster strikes.

The same is true when it comes to appointing people to the port authorities. The government wants to reduce the number of people. The danger is that local people will not be there to make the necessary recommendations. This is not the only concern. It also involves making decisions locally for the general population. These people are, after all, very familiar with the problems. They are the ones who should be making the decisions and making recommendations to the government concerning repairing our ports, such as making extensions, rebuilding or doing a better job in terms of economic development. This was the point I was making earlier about the port of Belledune.

I would like to talk about my riding and how this relates to my own backyard. There are some ports in bad shape in my riding. I can list several off the top of my head. The wharf in Pointe Verte is in such bad condition that boats cannot even enter into the port. The same is true for the wharves in Maisonnette, Anse-Bleue and Saint-Raphaël-sur-mer.

That is also the case for Le Goulet. I was speaking to the mayor of Le Goulet and he told me that the government absolutely had to intervene and help them. These are not large communities. Earlier, the Bloc Québécois member said that the port of Montreal does not have any debts, that it has no such problems and that it would like to be treated fairly.

We have catching up to do. We have to start reinvesting in order to ensure a certain level of economic development at these ports and also to ensure the safety of citizens. At present, ports are not safe. In Grande-Anse, fishermen stay outside the port because when the tide is low they cannot get back in. It is not safe. No one can enter the ports of Miller Brook or L'Anse-Bleue as they are not safe.

The government has responsibilities. It washed its hands of them by transferring them to citizens. When it transferred its responsibilities to the communities, it guaranteed that it would be there to help them maintain the ports in good condition. It wanted the citizens to help but then abandoned them. That is regrettable.

In closing, we will support Bill C-23 if amended. I am certain that we will hear more from the member for Windsor West. He will be presenting some good ideas in committee in order to obtain our support for Bill C-23.

Canada Marine ActGovernment Orders

December 3rd, 2007 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Marine Act, the Canada Transportation Act, the Pilotage Act and other Acts in consequence.

I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-23 in principle. Obviously, we will have the opportunity to improve it in committee and to call witnesses. We hope—and I am choosing my words carefully here—that this bill will increase the competitiveness of the St. Lawrence by maintaining and improving the port infrastructure required to develop the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes trade corridor, which will also promote intermodal transportation and benefit the environment.

Why do I say that this is what we hope? Because at first glance, we have to be careful. Our Liberal colleague mentioned that when the Liberals were in power, they promoted the Pacific Gateway. The Conservatives, in the person of the parliamentary secretary, said earlier that they have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Pacific Gateway. They are preparing to announce a major investment in the Atlantic Gateway and Halifax. Yet we never heard any mention of the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes trade corridor in the speeches given by the parliamentary secretary and the Liberal member.

That is why I say that the Bloc Québécois hopes that the bill before us will lead to the development of the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes trade corridor, which is as important as the Mississippi is to the United States. This waterway, which flows directly into the heart of the Americas, must be taken into consideration. We hope that this bill will address part of this problem.

The primary goal of Bill C-23 is to amend the current borrowing system. Those who are watching us and are not familiar with this should know that currently port authorities are entities, independent corporations that have charters allowing them to borrow money up to a certain limit. As the parliamentary secretary was saying, the goal is to increase or eliminate the borrowing limit for large ports with a view to allowing them to develop.

I will give the example of the port of Montreal. It has become less important under the Liberals as well as since the Conservatives came to power, but it is nonetheless considered one of Canada's major ports. The port of Montreal does not do any borrowing at all. Introducing a bill to increase the borrowing capacity of the port of Montreal when it already does not borrow anything, is not going to help it develop.

As far as access to funding is concerned, it is true that port authorities currently are not able to receive subsidies. Just like airport authorities, they have to pay their own way and bill their clientele for expenses. Marine companies obviously have to pay fees to use ports. That is how ports generate revenues. They can contract loans in order to finance improvements made to the ports. That is the current situation.

Now, this bill would allow them access to funding. That is well and good, but I want this to be fair for all ports across Canada. When we talk about the Conservative government's investment in the Pacific gateway, we have to realize it was not for infrastructure within the confines of the ports, since this was not permitted by law. It was funding for improvements to railway lines and access points so that they could provide as many services as possible, to ship and receive merchandise outside the port limits.

Personally, I would like them to receive subsidies today. But if all the money always goes directly to the Pacific ports and there is nothing for the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes trade corridor, this bill will just create an even greater imbalance.

To date, the Pacific gateway program implemented by the Liberals and maintained by the Conservatives still has no equivalent in the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes corridor.

The Conservatives announced that the Atlantic gateway would be in Halifax, but once again, there is nothing for the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes corridor, which is, I repeat, the largest and most beautiful gateway in the Americas. That was the goal when it was created, but I will talk about the history later on. If the Bloc Québécois members are not vigilant, if all the money goes to the west and the Maritimes and there is nothing for the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes corridor, this bill will not have achieved its goal.

I will repeat some of the reasons. The port of Montreal does not borrow any money. Obviously, it is not money that it needs. All the investments should be made outside the limits or boundaries to facilitate intermodal and other types of transportation. However, if we do not end up seeing any of that investment and if the goal of this bill is to help the Pacific and Halifax ports, we will have failed.

I would like to clarify certain aspects of governance. Obviously, there is a need to review how port authorities and corporations are administered—and I think this is good for everyone. For the Bloc Québécois, it is also important that these investments be evenly distributed to all regions of Canada and that, among others, the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes trade corridor receive its fair share for once. This was not the case under the Liberals and has not yet been the case under the Conservatives, as we have seen.

We want to make something clear in this House: the St. Lawrence River has always been a major asset to Quebec's development and closely linked to the economic development of all its regions. Eighty percent of Quebec's population lives on the shores of the St. Lawrence and over 75% of its industry is found there. The strategic location of industries in relation to the St. Lawrence River means it can be used for nearly all international trade outside the United States.

I will repeat this, because it is important to understand. When considering the St. Lawrence Seaway in the North American context, the importance of its economic impact becomes even more obvious. Indeed, the St. Lawrence River provides privileged access to the heart of North America. It not only allows access to 90 million inhabitants and the industrial heartland of the United States, Canada and Quebec, but it also provides a shorter route for major European carriers. The distance between Montreal and Rotterdam is 5,813 km while the distance between New York and Rotterdam is 6,154 km.

This corridor allows faster entry into the heartland of the Americas. The St. Lawrence Seaway is underutilized, however. The total amount of goods transported via the St. Lawrence dropped from 130 million tonnes in the early 1980s to approximately 100 million tonnes 10 years later, only to hover around 105 million tonnes since. Thus, since 1980, the ports of the St. Lawrence have received less merchandise than the 150 million tonnes they are currently receiving in 2007. It was 25 million tonnes less than what was being transported on the St. Lawrence in the early 1980s.

Once again, while some ports have seen increased traffic, neither investments nor Canada's management of the ports file have allowed this important development tool to be used to full advantage. We do not want to hear that this tool is the same everywhere or that it underutilizes goods transportation. For example, over the past 30 years, carriage of goods by ship has grown by 600% worldwide. While traffic on the St. Lawrence dropped from 130 million tonnes in the 1980s to 105 million tonnes, maritime shipping increased by 600% internationally. Closer to home, the Mississippi River system, which competes directly with the St. Lawrence, saw traffic increase from 450 million to 700 million tonnes. Seaports on the east coast of the U.S. have also seen steady increases in traffic.

This is why I have just as much trouble understanding my Liberal colleague's point as I do the message we are getting from the parliamentary secretary who talked about economic activity, China and that fact that they are the ones asking for it.

Even so, I would emphasize that the east coast of the U.S. has seen a major increase in shipping, which did not happen on the St. Lawrence. What does that mean? It means that Canada has not paid attention to one of the most important trade corridors, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway, which borders Quebec, Ontario and the United States.

A similar trend is affecting traffic going through the St. Lawrence Seaway. After reaching a high of 70 million tonnes, the quantity of goods being transported via the seaway stabilized around 50 million tonnes per year. Once again, the seaway leads to the Great Lakes. As I said earlier, the shipping trade dropped from 130 million tonnes to 105 million tonnes on the St. Lawrence, and on the seaway that leads to the Great Lakes, it dropped from 70 million tonnes in the early 1980s to 50 million tonnes. Once again, this is due mainly to the fact that the St. Lawrence Seaway is not competitive, and this is because of Ottawa's failure to pay attention to marine infrastructure in Quebec, particularly along the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade corridor. That is the harsh reality of it.

When the Liberals were in power, they decided to put all their eggs in one basket, the basket known as the Pacific Gateway, and neglected the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade corridor. The Conservatives are making the same mistake. They added the extra money needed for the Pacific Gateway and decided to establish an Atlantic gateway in Halifax. The money will go to Halifax and, once again, there will be nothing for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade corridor.

This bill, which allows the ports to borrow more money, will not solve the problem. All of the money invested in the Pacific Gateway is going outside the port areas per se in order to improve the flow of goods by rail and road.

The same should be done for the ports along the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. The same treatment, the same energy should be given to all these gateways by making the same kind of investment in them. What is being permitted today is investment within the area governed by each port authority. They are told that they can borrow more and that, henceforth, the government may provide direct subsidies.

Given that monies for gateways were given only to the Pacific Gateway—and now to the Atlantic Gateway in Halifax—there is nothing for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor. If that is the purpose of this bill as well, then they have missed the mark.

That is why the only party to raise this in the House is the Bloc Québécois. We are proud to live in Quebec and proud of the St. Lawrence, which has always been the backbone of all Quebec and Canadian industries. We cannot help but notice the major retreat by the Government of Canada from making investments along the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor.

I would like to give a brief overview of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor. The concept of the corridor is based on an obvious fact. The ports along the St. Lawrence must establish a common strategy for facilitating the most efficient transport of goods possible amongst themselves and towards the destination markets. It is also based on a second obvious fact. The competition is no longer among Montreal, Quebec City, Sept-Îles or the other St. Lawrence ports, or even those on the Great Lakes, for their share of global marine traffic. They are competing against the American ports, and that is the competition they must face.

The message I want to send is that we are not in competition with the east coast, the west coast, Halifax or Vancouver. As I was saying earlier about distances, it is shorter to get from Rotterdam to Montreal than from Rotterdam to New York. That means we have an obvious advantage: we are able to serve the heart of North America, the United States among others, Quebec and Ontario too. We are able to do so with this corridor if we work together, just a little, and if all the ports along the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes work together.

Merchandise should be transported as quickly and efficiently as possible. If there need to be transfers by road or by rail, the same service being provided in the Vancouver area should be provided in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor. These same advantages have to be given to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor so that the world's entire marine transportation market can benefit all the regions of Canada, which still includes Quebec.

We cannot help but notice that both the Liberals and the Conservatives have completely forgotten this large-scale corridor, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade corridor.

I do not want to keep repeating myself, but the bill introduced here in this House would provide the port authorities an advantage by giving them borrowing powers or allowing the government to give them direct subsidies, which was not allowed before. Again, there is the example of the port of Montreal. It does not borrow money and it does not have any debt. So, it is not the port of Montreal that asked for this. However, if there are subsidies, it wants to benefit from that as much as all the other ports in Canada.

It is very important that the government understand that because the stated goal is to give direct subsidies within the perimeter administered by the port corporations, namely the western gateway and the Pacific gateway, in the Vancouver area. The Maritimes gateway in Halifax will probably get subsidies as well. In any case, this money has to be allocated in a balanced way across Canada. I am not convinced that is the government's intention.

The Bloc Québécois will be in favour of this bill because it believes that the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes trade corridor is one of the most under-used marine corridors, considering its proximity and ability to serve Quebec, Ontario and the central United States. We believe that the corridor is under-used, that previous successive governments here in Ottawa were negligent and did not make the required efforts or investments to promote this development. Moreover, this St. Lawrence-Great Lakes corridor will also enable intermodal transportation, or more specifically cabotage, which is probably the greatest strength of the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes corridor right now.

We hope to be able to develop cabotage and intermodal transportation. We would like to be able to cover the short distance between Montreal and the Great Lakes and between Montreal and Sept-Îles. We would like to be able to use this vast corridor, as the Americans use the Mississippi, and ensure that all the required government investments will make it possible for all the infrastructure and ports along the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes to be able to fully develop intermodal transportation.

If that is not the government's intention, the Bloc Québécois will have the chance to ask questions of the government and the minister. It is all well and good to introduce a bill, but if it was done simply to develop the Pacific gateway, they should say so. They should be honest and say if there is a lack of money, if the ports of Vancouver and the Pacific can no longer borrow money, if they require direct investments and subsidies. They must say so because there will be an imbalance between the Pacific and Atlantic ports. We are creating our own competition, and there is nothing worse than that.

This is not the first time the Liberals and the Conservatives have made a mistake on this file. They adopt policies on the fly and they try to fix problems in the short term by putting one fire out and lighting another two. The Bloc Québécois wants to avoid doing that. We agree that ports should be allowed to change their borrowing regimes, which would enable large ports to borrow money in order to support their own development. We agree that there should be some funding now, which was not allowed before, and subsidies via infrastructure programs to help port authorities if they are in too much debt. All the same, we want to be fair to the west coast, the east coast and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor.

If we do not say that in this House, that is what the Conservative Party will do. That is what the Liberal Party started to do by investing in the Pacific gateway. In the end the Liberals did nothing. The Conservatives are feeling a little uncomfortable and seem to want to invest. They announced funding for the Pacific gateway, but they did not give anything to Atlantic ports or Halifax.

That means zero minus zero plus zero for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor. Absolutely nothing. Obviously, that will be very bad for Quebec's economy, as well as Ontario's, and it will also limit what we can do to develop trade with the United States.

December 3rd, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

On a point of order, the minister points out that not a single province signed on to Bill C-303, but I'd like to enunciate that every province in Canada signed on to the previous Liberal child care plans.

Thank you, sir, to clear the records.