Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-7, an act to amend the Marine Liability Act. This is not my riding's greatest concern, but it does show that I give thought to the bills that are important to this House.
I have reservations about the nature of this particular law as it brings out some of the dilatory nature of the government. This law is acting on a 2005 report.
It is important that the House and the government address some of the less glamorous sides of government. However, I think the laws that we have seen coming through the transportation and infrastructure committee of late are laws that could have been and should have been addressed some time ago and could have been and should have been part of some animated discussion in terms of setting standards.
I think they find themselves less subject to that because of the long time it has taken for the government of the day to actually address the business of the day. For people even lightly concerned with the affairs of the country, it has now become commonplace to recognize that the Conservative government has been very occupied with its own politics and its angling for power. The actual day-to-day running of government and moving forward with the business of government have lost out in very significant measure.
The bill before us today addresses some significant things in the sense of conventions to which Canada has made itself a signatory. It addresses a glaring gap in the liability coverage with respect to adventure tourism as it relates to the Maritimes, our various coasts and their ability to continue. People know that the whole move toward ecotourism in terms of employment and so on leaves those operators disadvantaged. The Conservative government has put a whole range of the public interest on a slow boat that will only come into harbour when it is in the political interest of the government, not the public interest. This is a hallmark of the government. It is not just the public interest, but some very specific parts of the country that suffer.
I predict that this is going to become increasingly recognized as a measure of some of the disappointment that people have with the government, because this is a signature. We can look at the relationship between laws like this one and others. Currently before committee is another law looking at Arctic waters and the extension of the 100-mile limit to a 200-mile limit. There was a consensus on that some time ago. There is also some work being done around changes to some of the remote airports.
A lot of these things could have been and should have been addressed by the House some time ago, but they did not fit the mode of the government. People may wonder is it not the job of the government to simply govern. That is not what the government of the day saw as its main reason for being here. Instead, led by the Prime Minister, it uses every opportunity and every ounce of its power and every aspect of privilege to introduce things that advance it in public opinion and give it a better chance to win government.
A year or two ago many reasonable Canadians would have called that something of an overemphasis, that that is not exactly how they understood the government and its particular brand of conservatism. I think it is now fairly well entrenched with the Canadian public that there is an opportunism that trumps the public interest.
We need to have some reasonable level of debate. For example, there are nuggets in this legislation that speak to levels of liability and adopting international conventions to establish them. Some of the ones that are fixed do increase, but this is a complex bill that addresses crafts of different sizes, from canoes or paddle-powered boats up to tankers weighing hundreds of tonnes and those that also carry bunker fuel for their propulsion.
This is a long overdue consideration of the pollution protections for our coastal waters and how well they conform. We can be fairly guaranteed that ships of a certain size will have registration and insurance once this law comes into effect and two of the international conventions that are waiting on this law come into effect in terms of guaranteed licensing and insurance. This is the result of a report in 2005 and we stand here in 2009 coming only to its first deliberation.
Again, it is important to consider that this is part of a pattern. To be reasonable and fair, we must take a look at the government's own accountability reports in areas like infrastructure. In 2007-08, according to the government's own report on infrastructure, there is a strong indication that only about 5% of the dollars budgeted for that year actually was distributed.
The government should have focused more on bills such as the one before us today, Bill C-7, on the actual running of government, actually getting dollars out, getting laws modified and passed, keeping up with the business of government, the unglamorous side, the non-political side. The ratio is what we have to fulfill if we are not going to end up gumming up the works, which is the situation I humbly submit the government of the day now finds itself in.
Not having been interested in running good government, it now finds itself with a backlog of public interest items that have to be reckoned with. Its agenda up to now has really been to sustain itself in power and hopefully propel itself into a majority, but now that agenda stands exposed. It stands somewhat weakened and instead of being able to play Whac-A-Mole with the various issues that pop up every day, there is a heck of a lot of governing that has to be reckoned with.
In not spending 95% of infrastructure dollars, in not bringing forward this bill sooner, Canadians have not been served well. That is the simple and clear matter of it. Canadians wonder why the government is not taking care of a variety of initiatives.
Canadians would be disturbed to know, for example, that some of the bills that have come forward to deal with some of the concerns, not just regionalized in places such as Vancouver but around community safety and so on, have been to this House before, have been offered consensus support by the parties before, but for its own agenda, incredibly for a government that would portray itself as having an abiding interest in some level of community safety, the government has actually held onto those bills. It has delayed them so that it could go to the polls and talk about them as not having been passed.
If we look at the various parliamentary manipulations around bills presented to this House, we will find that to be accurate and to be the case. It is a government again that has really broken new ground for the high ratio of incredibly intensive political considerations of its actions. There is no denying that every government that brings things forward needs to have a consideration for the well-being of the opinion of the public, but this is a whole different level that knocks out what many of the constituents who sent all of us here would see as reasonable or fair in the face of our overall obligations.
With respect to the Marine Liabilities Act and the Federal Courts Act that makes these consequential amendments, this says to the people who, for example, have been waiting for adventure tourism for these five years that we are going to get around to it, that this actually may be in the purview of the government to do some of the heavy lifting on some of the things that need to get done. We can also sense, as we have at committee, a certain lack of enthusiasm of the government for that job of finding where it is it can move things forward on behalf of Canadians.
The biggest illustration of this perhaps is in the recent business around the federal budget. The government, in its wisdom, thought it would bring in an agenda that would cut $5 billion, but it turned into an $18 billion agenda of deficit financing, of incentives and of stimulus. Whether it comes to that moment of the day or a bill like this one, I think all fair-minded Canadians are asking themselves whether the government really means it, if it is being compelled to do it, if it is not really part of how it has put itself at risk in terms of promises that it has made to Canadians, if it is really a sincere commitment on the part of the government to run the ordinary business.
Clearly Bill C-7 falls into the category of the ordinary running of government. This is the kind of thing we would like to think that parliamentarians out of the limelight would spend some of their time on, making sure that we get it right, making sure that Canada does not fall behind other countries, as apparently we have now, in ratifying the conventions, that we do not fall behind other jurisdictions, as we apparently have, in terms of promoting the ecotourism that comes with marine adventure tours and so on.
Quite frankly they have been unable, without our adherence to the convention, to find liability insurance to the same degree that would make that possible. It is actually a significant constraint on something that should be within a proper discussion of its impact. Every new industry has its ups and downs in terms of what it can do, but it is something that has been touted, quite rightly, as a way for some of the communities that previously depended upon resource exploitation, that have found that a less viable industry, to turn to that and to find themselves better supported in a way that is much more in keeping with the environment.
As the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca spoke about so eloquently earlier, there is an environmental tie-in here, but we can understand as well that there is a lack of enthusiasm on that particular front. This has not been a direction in which the government has tilted its hat. There has been minimal coverage of some of these things.
I want to say to the people who are keeping track of how Parliament is doing that this is a consistent feature of how we find the government. It is just covering the minimal bases and working every angle that it can to advance what its true agenda may still well be.
On this side of the House, we would like to believe there is a capacity in the government to hunker down to business, to look at things like Bill C-7, to look at its obligation to fund infrastructure projects, and to take some of the partisanship and political component out of it.
If one listens, for example, to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, one will know that is not the case. Of the times that the issue has been raised, whether it be here or in committee, it really is around a partisan element.
We hear a defence for the idea that most of the money should go, for example, to Conservative ridings. The government still, in its old-fashioned outlook, looks after its prerogatives even in this hour of need for Canadians. Last December 44,000 people lost their jobs in the construction industry. I do not have a comparable number in terms of how significantly people are affected in the ecotourism industry that is referred to in this bill in terms of marine adventure, but no doubt they would find themselves compromised for a time simply because they did not fit the bulls-eye of the government. That bulls-eye has in it a very high quotient of political self-interest.
We would hope that with the encouragement of Canadians with some of the events of recent months there could actually be some kind of learning in place by the government. That is what Canadians require. They require that the government, for the time that it is there, actually exhibit the capacity to look after a broader range of interests.
Later on today the government will have a chance to express itself with respect to a particular group of immigrants who have the wide support of Canadians as resisters to the Iraq war. They have come from the United States. They have given up an entire lifestyle and connection to their home country out of an ethical and moral crisis that they have experienced. These are people who have spent, as an example of people who live in my riding, as much as 27 years serving their country and their military. Yet, members opposite, because they think that simplification serves their agenda, are prone instead to mischaracterize these people in the negative and look at them as something less than the special case considerations they are.
Having a Canadian sensibility is something that needs to be worked for by a government that is prepared to roll up its sleeves and be open to the new ideas and occurrences that come, not from the people who occupy the chairs in this chamber, but rather from the Canadian public. Instead, for members opposite, that too often has been found lacking.
It is our hope that this bill will find at least some time in committee and that we will look at purposefully and weigh the balance by consulting with some of the groups that are affected by some of the liability coverages put forward in terms of the risks that Canadians have.
It is interesting that there is a whole range of things that still need to be done in terms of international shipping. I think most Canadians would probably sleep a little less easily if they knew that the amount of liability available, for example, for an oil spill is much less than the damage it could cause to our coastline and to our environment. That would be concerning. Yet, as I spoke earlier, there is a conspicuous lack of urgency in terms of driving the government forward to bring us this bill after four years.
There does arise the possibility of hope for how the government may conduct itself in this regard and more broadly. It is in that tempered hope that the government has been put on an effective probation as it needs to be.
We know that left to its own devices it would simply reproduce the record that it had in recent years of being unable to fund infrastructure projects and unwilling to put out a whole range of government actions. We saw in the last budget report a whole range of projects that went underfunded, unspent and unattended to by a government that is simply too concerned and spends too much of its time on its political interests and not enough time on the public's interests.
This bill is only one example of several that have started to slowly come out of the bureaucracy that is a necessary part of government. One can almost hear that word in disdain from the members opposite, but there is a part of governance that is not about what gets into the headlines. I understand there has not been a lot of media coverage of this particular bill.
Therein lies some of the reasons the government has taken so long to bring this forward. Nowhere in the coda of the government, of the ethics, of the way it expresses itself is a commitment to do government better, to actually see government work as opposed to castigated, as opposed to put a whole host of imagined ills on what happens to government, but the very idea that government could be made to function better, frankly, even in an enterprise way, to try different ideas and better ideas of making government work better rather than handing it off to some blurry version of the private sector that it has in mind.
Some of the members opposite served in the Mike Harris government in Ontario, the Conservative government in Ontario, and we found, in case after case, what happens when a government is not focused on making government work fully in the public interest. Every day there are people driving on highway 407 that was given off, handed away completely, to the private sector without due valuation for the public interest. It was sold for $3 billion and evaluated for $11 billion not even 12 months later. A complete giveaway.
People do not talk publicly about the justice project, in which some of the members opposite were involved, in terms of current ministers, and yet the justice project ended up with hundreds of millions of dollars spent by a private sector firm on developing a case management system. It ended up in litigation and got exactly zero for the government of the day and governments to follow.
There are other cases of billions of dollars wasted by a particular brand of Conservative that holds government in disdain. I guess what I want to say in terms of the Marine Liability Act, in dealing with the needs that are brought forward here, is an element of vigilance is required, not just on this side of the House but on the public's part as well. In order to understand the government of the day, it is important to understand this predilection that it has towards its own interest.
Some of that has become part of the public characteristic that people have attributed to the Prime Minister, whether fairly or not, but I think it has started to stick as what they see. Most recently some of the public opinion polls say that he is not trusted in terms of the direction of the economy.
I would submit, humbly, to the members opposite that this is part of the problem, that their leadership as well as individual members do not speak in this House about things like how to get infrastructure money to their own communities. They do not say that the gas tax method would get the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in some cases directly to their municipalities, directly to their local needs, because maybe, and I do not wish to ascribe motive, but it seems on the surface of it that they subscribe to the old style of in the back room, slicing up the piece of pie and hoping that their riding will get that. Well, even though there is a propensity to see that money go toward Conservative ridings, it does not necessarily mean that their riding will benefit.
I would submit that just as people want to see us address things, long overdue things like marine liability, they want us to reckon with how to get dollars out in stimulus, dollars that are being borrowed from their grandchildren. That is what happens when money is borrowed, that they would meet that higher standard, that in fact we would see those dollars land out there in products that are worthwhile.
We have yet to hear from a single member in the government party on that subject. In fact, they all voted against their local communities getting a fair share of those infrastructure dollars. Instead, they have submitted to an old fashioned application program that will allow somebody in the back rooms to put their fingerprints on it. They hope it will mean a bigger set of scissors and a bigger chance to actually cut the ribbons and so on, and take credit for it.
I would say to the members opposite, just as this bill should have been in this House some time ago, just as we should have been helping marine tourism previously, just as we should have been ensuring that our environmental protections are as strong as they needed to be in terms of moving us forward sooner, so, too, must there be a different look at how government operates.
There is an increasingly short period of time should the government not see, appreciate and understand that. I would look to the wisdom of the members opposite when it comes to the variety of votes and choices that are coming forward and the considerations they make in their own caucuses to tell the government, and its leadership, plainly, that it is time to look after the people of Canada and not to look after the Conservative Party of Canada over and over again in this place.
I look forward to the chance to dialogue further with members about this bill and obviously, even more important, about the priorities that this bill represents, not just the protection of our marine traffic into Canada, not just the modernization of what we are doing in terms of protecting the environment and advancing some of the newer types of industries, but having this House be effective on behalf of Canadians so that it does not take four years to get a functional bill in front of this House where members can put it in front of committee and bring in the groups that need to look at it.
It may trouble people who are observing us to know that we are not all tasked every day in terms of the government putting in front of us the important issues around the auto sector. We have seen nothing from the government about what it is doing in the auto sector, the forestry sector or infrastructure. It has simply does what it thinks is in its political interests and does not expose it to this House.
To give credit to the United States, it has shown the public what it is doing. The result is that we have no protection in terms of assets pledged for the dollars that we have offered to General Motors, for example, none whatsoever. It was all pledged to the Americans. We look forward--