Bill C-7 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Marine Liability Act and the Federal Courts Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.
John Baird Conservative
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends Parts 3 and 4 of the Marine Liability Act to clarify certain rules of the limitation of liability of owners of ships for maritime claims and liability for the carriage of passengers, in particular the treatment of participants in adventure tourism activities.
It also amends Part 6 of that Act to implement the Protocol of 2003 to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992 as well as the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001. The enactment continues, in Part 7, the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund and modernizes its governance. With respect to Part 8, it includes general provisions relating to the administration and enforcement of offences under that Act and creates a maritime lien for Canadian ship suppliers against foreign vessels and establishes a general limitation period for proceedings not covered by other limitation periods.
Finally, this enactment amends the Federal Courts Act and makes consequential amendments to other Acts.
Marine Liability Act
May 14th, 2009 / 10:15 a.m.
Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today on Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Marine Liability Act and the Federal Courts Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This bill affects a number of regions of Canada. I should start by saying that, naturally, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill in principle. This bill follows on the signature by the Government of Canada of the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001, as well as the protocol of 2003 to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992,
It was high time that the government honoured its international commitments. Not only does integration of these new instruments and principles into federal law guarantee higher compensation to victims of marine accidents, but it will also have positive repercussions on the Canadian compensation fund.
Withdrawing the prohibition for adventure tourism activities to use waivers in order to be exonerated of civil responsibilities toward their passengers is a good thing for us as well. By their very nature, these activities involve a degree of risk that participants must assume. Although this change may at first glance seem to be sufficient, it will be necessary to evaluate its repercussions in committee. The creation of a maritime lien for Canadian ship suppliers against foreign vessels was equally desirable, but again it is essential that it be studied in committee because that will make it possible to determine the scope of this addition and to suggest improvements to it as well.
I will close by stating that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill.
Marine Liability Act
May 14th, 2009 / 10:15 a.m.
Andrew Kania Brampton West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Newton—North Delta.
I have the honour to speak today to Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Marine Liability Act. I will restrict my comments to the maritime lien that is proposed in clause 139.
I am not a member of the transport committee but I have attended four different meetings. I was a substitute at the first meeting and I noted a serious problem in the legislation, so I came back for three other meetings to see if we could fix it. I proposed amendments specifically with respect to this maritime lien and those amendments were discussed on May 7. I am disappointed to say that the government voted against them so I am here today to explain the situation and ask the Conservatives to reconsider them. However, at a minimum, Canadians need to know that they voted against these proposed amendments and why they did.
Specifically, clause 139, the maritime lien, which is what we call a right, states:
A person, carrying on business in Canada, has a maritime lien against a foreign vessel for claims that arise
(a) in respect of goods, materials or services wherever supplied to a foreign vessel for its operation or maintenance, including, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, stevedoring and lighterage; and
(b) out of a contract relating to the repair or equipping of a foreign vessel.
It is a lot of language but, in short, it means that if a foreign vessel comes into Canada and a person supplies services to it, the person has a right to get paid and attempt to exercise that right against the actual ship.
The next question is whether this right actually does anything for the person. The problem is that it does not because, in most circumstances, that right would be meaningless. Although the person would have the right to get payment, how would the person actually do it because, generally speaking, people will have extreme difficulty trying to get the money?
We need to look at this on a very practical basis. If people are owed $200, $500, $2,000 or whatever it may be, how will they get their money? Although this proposed maritime lien would give people the right to try to get the money, what do they need to do? With the way the current system is written, which has a gap in terms of the remedy, people must sue. Therefore, if there is a foreign vessel in a port that owes people money and it is about to leave, there is nothing people can do about it. If it is from a foreign country, people will need to hire a lawyer and try to sue somewhere even if a judge will accept jurisdiction in a foreign country. This is not a practical right because there is no way to exercise this.
Even if the ship were to remain in Canada, people would need to hire a lawyer, which means money. Whatever the bill may be, whether it is $400, $500, $800 or more, people need to hire a lawyer in order to sue, pay a filing fee and then try to get an order to stop the ship or sell the ship in order to get their money. People would then need to prepare motion material, which means a notice of motion, an affidavit or two and a documentation order, that is assuming they could even find a lawyer who can get it into court. Even if they do find a lawyer who can get into court, they then have to wait. It could be a number of hours and the lawyers charge by the hour. Assuming they could even find a lawyer and even find a judge, they may end up spending a few thousand dollars trying to enforce a debt of a few hundred dollars that is owed. People will not do it.
Once again, I am not on this committee but I kept coming back because I thought this would be better for Canadians. Sections 128 and 129 already have a provision for a designated officer to direct a ship to stop and to issue a detention order if it looks like something untoward has occurred. What that would really mean is that some problems would be solved. First, a ship escaping or leaving Canada would be stopped. Once it is here it would not be able to go anywhere, which means we are preserving that right and that lien.
Second, if a detention order were issued, part of it would say that the foreign vessel must pay a certain amount of money before it could be released. It just keeps the status quo. It keeps it there. The owner can pay the money and go or go in front of a judge, which puts the onus on the foreign vessel owner to actually do something. At least Canadians would be protected.
With the amendments that I proposed, which I am disappointed to say that the Conservatives voted against, ships would be kept in Canada and they would either have to pay or go before a judge. That would skip the first layer of having to actually hire a lawyer and spend all that money.
The Canadian Bar Association had a representative who said that he was opposed to these amendments. I understand that because I am the former secretary of the Ontario Bar Association representing approximately 17,000 lawyers. The job of the Ontario Bar Association and the Canadian Bar Association is to represent lawyers. I am particularly disappointed with the parliamentary secretary, the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca, who is also a lawyer. He said that he knows how a court works, and I believe him, but he was supporting lawyers. In essence, he said, “You can hire a lawyer, you can pay a lawyer and you can get into court and we'll leave things the way they are”. That means that people who cannot afford a lawyer or people who have very small claims will not have any fair redress. I am very disappointed with that because our job is not to represent a particular constituency group, but Canadians in general. Although I am lawyer, I am here to represent the people of Brampton West and Canadians. I am very disappointed with the government for this.
I would like to read some specific quotes by the parliamentary secretary when he was at the committee on Thursday, May 7. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure gave examples and said, “You've got a large, expensive ship...with a small bill, whatever it may be, owed to Canadians, and I just don't see that as being appropriate”.
In essence, he was siding with the foreign vessels and with the lawyers over Canadian citizens who may be owed money but, for some unfair reason, the foreign vessel has refused to pay them. I do not see that as appropriate for a member of Parliament.
A second quote by the parliamentary secretary reads, “I believe lawyers can be called on a phone--I know I was available most nights until midnight--and can do a lien and find a judge in time to do it, even after hours”.
What he is saying is that we will not be changing the system, we will not be making it better for Canadians and constituents. We will keep it with lawyers. We will keep this as an expensive system even though the amounts in question are so small that either people will not bother and, therefore, will be treated unfairly, or they will not be able to afford to exercise their right. I find that quite disappointing.
The legal counsel for the Department of Transport acknowledges that this change would be something that would be added to the legislation. He says that it would be an element to the way in which a maritime lien is enforced and a positive step to help Canadians and our fellow constituents.
Despite that comment, the parliamentary secretary and the government, for whatever reason, just voted against all of this to defeat what I think would be a very positive change for Canadians.
Although this may seem complicated, it is not. It is as simple as this. There is a new right, a maritime lien under clause 139. There would be no way to practically use this unless there is a substantive change. It just would not happen on an everyday practical basis.
I proposed a substantive amendment that would create a remedy so Canadians could enforce and use this maritime lien. It would help Canadians, who we should be focusing on, and innocent service providers, not advocacy groups, such as the owners of foreign vessels or lawyers. There is nothing wrong with lawyers making a decent living but we can cut out the first step for the benefit of Canadians and still require a court as a second step. This would save money and protect the rights of Canadians.
Marine Liability Act
May 14th, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.
Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-7, which represents some badly needed updates to the Marine Liability Act. These updates are essential in an age when Canada's waterways are becoming some of the most hotly contested in the world.
Whether it concerns land, sea or air, the world has undergone a revolution over the past 20 years with regard to making polluters pay. Responsibility never seems to be properly demonstrated to organizations or individuals until the perpetrators are hit in their pocketbooks.
Bill C-7 would bring Canada into line with several international conventions that have come into effect in recent years.
In British Columbia the threat of accidents occurring as a result of oil tanker traffic is always of great concern.
In terms of oil spills, the Exxon Valdez disaster will remain in our minds forever. It spilled 41 million litres of oil, one-sixth of the oil it carried, and polluted 2,000 kilometres of coastline. Hundreds of thousands of birds, fish and animals died right away, including somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 seabirds, thousands of sea otters, hundreds of harbour seals and bald eagles, a couple of dozen killer whales, and a dozen or more river otters.
Over the past two years there has been furious discussion in my home province about the validity of the federal government's statement dating back to the early 1970s in regard to a moratorium on oil tanker traffic along the B.C. coast. While I am not going to delve into that particular debate in my speech today, I am going to try to point out that we as a country must be better prepared to mitigate any future incidents should they occur. With this in mind, I am pleased that the first convention this bill would ratify is the Protocol of 2003 to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992.
More specifically, this change to the act would provide an additional tier of compensation for damages resulting from the spill of persistent oil, mainly crude oil, from tankers from about $405 million to $1.5 billion per incident. In citing this provision, let me attempt to properly convey the sensitive nature of British Columbia's fragile and pristine coastal areas.
According to Statistics Canada, the total cargo handled at Canadian ports and marinas in 2006 was 466.3 million tonnes. The domestic tonnage handled in 2006 represented 136.2 tonnes. What must also be noted is that these figures do not include vessels that are used for recreation, tourism, or purposes other than cargo transport.
This leads me into the next provision of the bill that is extremely important for British Columbia, namely, the exemption of liability for the marine adventure tourism industry.
Before I talk about this industry and its growth potential, I want to point out one simple fact. All marine adventure tourism operators are required to have a minimum of $1 million in liability insurance, and a certificate of insurance must be delivered prior to a license being issued. This requirement alone is reason enough for operators to be exempted from part 4 of the act. Combine this with the fact that waivers are a standard practice for water-based adventure tourism activities that are inherently fraught with danger, and there are enough guarantees in place to ensure safety associated with that industry.
Operators cannot always be at risk of frivolous claims, particularly with activities where one of the main attractions is the risk involved. The fact is that the west coast of British Columbia provides an unparalleled setting for ecotourism, adventure travel, nature tourism or sustainable tourism. These are currently the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry on the west coast. They present risks, but they also create jobs in British Columbia. By current projections, the estimates for anticipated labour demand in the area of adventure tourism and recreation will be 13,100 workers by 2015. This is nothing to scoff at.
This bill is an indication that Ottawa understands the unique nature and characteristics of operators within marine adventure tourism. This is a substantive bill. Although I have only had time to touch upon a couple of main issues, I would like to make a couple of salient points to conclude.
Bill C-7 represents the culmination of many years of important work that parliamentarians on all sides of the House have engaged in. It is very specific in its amendments to the Marine Liability Act and therefore is very limited in the kind of attention it might garner. However, these are the kinds of amendments that can make industries more globally competitive and more important, protect Canadians from dangers that often only become apparent when it is too late.
This is an important bill. It has been a privilege to stand today to articulate my support for it.
Marine Liability Act
May 14th, 2009 / 11:35 a.m.
Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Yukon for raising some very important issues in the context of this legislation. There are several, but I will pick up on one of the latter issues, and that is all of that which is resident under the permafrost is under the ice.
My colleague from Yukon has mentioned on several occasions, with respect to this bill and Bill C-3, that it is important to protect the environment and the interests of the aboriginal communities there. I note people in the audience are following this debate attentively. They picked up on that issue as well.
My colleague from Yukon knows very well that one of the issues we attempted to raise with Bill C-7 was that vessels would potentially go through the Northwest Passage. He made reference to the fact that potentially a great number of scientists and geophysicists would look at the latent, vast deposits of petroleum resident in that part of Canada.
For example, the 2008 U.S. geological survey found that 13% of all the untapped, undiscovered petroleum deposits were resident in Canada's Nordic lands under the ice sheets. Further, it found that 30% of the natural gas deposits worldwide were resident off the shore of Yukon and northwest of Nunavut. Indeed, 20% of all liquefied natural gas products were resident in that same place. When we have an environmental accident, where vessels that are not prepared to assume their responsibility travel through these waters, the potential for environmental disaster is huge.
My colleague from Yukon mentioned a moment ago that all such vessels travelling in this area ought to carry a liability of some $2 billion. The bill does not go that far. Could the member elaborate on the relationship between the liability that must be carried by these commercial operators and the environmental requirements of not only the north but all of Canada?
Marine Liability Act
May 13th, 2009 / 4:05 p.m.
Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to begin the third reading debate of Bill C-7, the Marine Liability Act. Let me first begin by saying that this bill has found support among many members of the House and across all party lines. I would like to express my thanks to the critics from all parties in relation to moving this bill forward for the benefit of Canadians.
I was very pleased to see that we were able to work so productively at the transport committee phase and I hope that that spirit of cooperation and collaboration will continue here in the Chamber. I do believe it will. At committee, we heard concerns from the tourism industry and legal experts. In several cases, we moved to address those concerns and strengthen this bill to make it even more effective as a piece of legislation for the benefit of all Canadians.
Indeed, all parties understand that there is a need to move forward on this bill to provide this country with the most comprehensive liability and compensation regime while balancing the concerns of all impacted stakeholders. We heard that this will be of great benefit to the industry and will impact all stakeholders across the country. This bill will significantly modernize the Marine Liability Act and offer greater protection from the risks associated with marine transportation from coast to coast.
For example, this bill will do four major things. First, it will significantly increase compensation for Canadians from damages caused by oil spills, which I am personally very excited about. I know that people across Canada are very interested in hearing more about that. Second, it will guarantee compensation for passengers on Canadian ships through compulsory insurance for shipowners. Third, it will recognize the commercial realities under which the marine adventure tourism sector must operate and make sure that the sector remains viable. We heard this from experts as well as people in the industry themselves. Finally, it will protect the interests of Canadian businesses that supply foreign ships that do not pay their bills through a form of lien, much like a builder's lien or a logger's lien.
Bill C-7 is the result of extensive consultations with stakeholders. I am pleased to inform the House that the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities also conducted its own thorough examination of the bill. The committee heard strong support from a number of stakeholders and experts in the areas of marine law and maritime transport. It made appropriate changes where indicated in the bill. The witnesses before the committee spoke of the balance that Bill C-7 needs to achieve by protecting the interests of the marine industry and of the Canadian public.
We heard loud and clear from witnesses that it was time for Canada to move forward with this type of legislation and for Canada to join the rest of the world in its move forward as well. As I said, the most exciting part is that this bill addresses the gaps in the liability and compensation regime for oil spills. As Bill C-7 is a priority for this government and would significantly advance maritime law in Canada, we are excited about its passage.
I would again like to thank and acknowledge the hard work of my colleagues on the committee. I hope that through continued collaboration on both sides of the House we will be able to move this bill forward without any further delay. Together, we can take one more step to modernize this important piece of legislation and protect Canadians for years to come.
I would like to thank the members of the committee one final time because it has been a very appropriate bill to push through in such a quick nature. Indeed, with their help, we will move it through the House.
Marine Liability Act
May 13th, 2009 / 4:10 p.m.
Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-7. Before I begin, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary because we are in the mode of thanking and because it is the right thing to do, acknowledging the fact that parliamentarians from both sides of the House and indeed from all four parties worked collaboratively on putting forth legislation that is in the public's interest.
The parliamentary secretary wanted to talk about four things and he touched on them very quickly. During the second reading debate, I addressed some issues that I thought needed to be looked at in some detail in order to bring forward legislation that would be commensurate with the betterment of the Canadian citizen's interest with respect to the Marine Liability Act.
Some of those issues were touched in committee. When I say “some of those were touched”, it is because when we bring issues to the committee, the committee brings forward stakeholders and other witnesses, interested parties, individuals and experts in the field in order to illuminate the issue, so that members of Parliament can penetrate on matters in a much more significant way than their own preparation might allow them to do. Putting partisanship aside, that is in fact what happened in this case.
Yes, as the parliamentary secretary said, we did want to bring forward legislation that brought Canada into the same standards of international practice with respect both to marine liabilities, the carriage of goods and services, but primarily goods, and to make penalties for contravention of the act, especially when it related to environmental damage up to a standard that would provide a real penalty.
We did look at these things, and this particular legislation does increase the penalty amount, for example, on commercial or public purpose vessels carrying passengers to a per capita limit of about $350,000 per passenger. We did not find much difficulty in that regard. We were more concerned about a series of other practices that are associated with, and may come as a result of, some of the activities that are conducted on a commercial basis.
To that end, we brought forward to the committee a variety of interested parties, including, for example, the Canadian Shipowners Association and International Ship-Owners Alliance of Canada.
Interestingly, they did not have a great deal to offer with respect to changes on a format that they thought only brought them forward to be competitive. I might say from a very personal point of view, I do not think that the punitive component of insurance and liabilities on the marine side was all that onerous for them, but it seemed to be consistent with the international practices that the rest of their competitors were operating under, and in fact did not diminish the protections that Canada, geographically, and Canadians on an individual human basis would suffer from.
We accepted their positions and it would appear that in many respects this legislation does make it easier for our own producers of services to compete in the international marketplace, but the committee was really looking at the issues of environmental degradation as a result of accidents in Canadian waters.
We noted, of course, that the Exxon Valdez, was probably the most serious of these shipwrecks that created untold damage that will carry on literally for decades, and cost enormous amounts of moneys, billions of dollars, in order to clean up and mitigate.
We did not address that sufficiently in my view. The changes that would have been required in order to get this bill through the House would probably have caused the bill to drag on and be delayed for an excessive period of time.
The committee made a decision that it would accept the limits that are proposed in the bill, such as they were, as sufficient movement forward in order to give all of those ship owners and carriers the opportunity to see that we are certainly much more serious than we were before because we have raised the limits, notwithstanding the fact that some might say that those limits are not enough.
We have delivered the message through this legislation so everyone understands that we want more due diligence. We want protocols put in place. The liabilities are going to be a lot more onerous than they have been in the past. Therefore, they need be able to up their insurance, or establish a care for the environment, a care for our shores, a care for our waters approach to doing business as they carry their products through our waters.
There was a series of amendments that did not come forward, but that reflected the interests that many Canadians from all parts of the country but in particular in our northern waters wanted us to address. They deal with not only the passage of vessels through their waters but the manufacturers of said vessels.
As we know and as we heard earlier on in the debate on environmental issues and protection of the environment, global warming is a fact of life that people are becoming more and more aware is not something that we are going to change overnight.
One of the effects of global warming is that the Northwest Passage, our northern waters, may become much more navigable not in the immediate future but in the future measured by the amount of time it takes to build some of these huge vessels, ocean-going carriers, as well as ice-breakers in order to allow countries like Chile, Russia, even the United States and other countries that see the advantage of going through our northern waters from a transportation point of view, in getting their goods to market.
Whether those markets be in Asia or in Europe, it would appear that our waters may provide all of those shippers with an opportunity to have a huge savings on the transportation cost side.
Some of the members from my own caucus brought forward some views at committee that addressed the issues of our aboriginal population in northern Canada and the protection of the environment in the northern parts of Canada.
Some of those views, while expressed at committee, have not found their way through amendments in this House, so I raise some of them today. I think some of my colleagues from the north, especially my colleague from Yukon, may take the opportunity to enumerate them as he addresses this issue at third reading. I look forward to hearing some of those expressions once again.
In addition to addressing the environmental impacts, which are not solely addressed by the insurance costs and the penalties that are going to be imposed through this legislation, in Canada and around the world, quite frankly, there is the issue of prevention, delivering the message that shippers need to use vessels that are seaworthy, crews that are appropriately prepared, trained and ready to utilize their vessels in a safe and efficient fashion as they go through our waters.
That is the essence of what this legislation aims to do. At least, from members of the Liberal caucus at committee, this is the focus of our issues on this legislation. The legislation, as we dealt with it at committee, did meet those concerns, and as a result we felt a certain level of comfort in supporting it, not just at second reading before it came to committee but at third reading as well, as we now find ourselves.
There is a series of other issues where we had concerns and we moved some amendments in this regard. I want to share them with you, Mr. Speaker, because I know that you are going to be interested in ensuring that members of Parliament do the work they need to do in committee to address the issues that Canadian citizens individually and collectively want to have addressed by their parliamentarians.
While the legislation addresses the issue of liability, insurance claims, appropriate funds at play and legislation to ensure that people abide by the contractual arrangements they have made as they operate in Canadian waters and on Canadian territory, it appeared to us in the Liberal caucus that we needed to reinforce at least two other measures. One of them is associated with non-compliance of contractual obligations and the practices of some of the shippers and the ship owners--sometimes they are not exactly the same individuals--and the liabilities they might or might not accept or forgo as they move in and out of Canadian waters.
When the member for Brampton West speaks to this later on, he will itemize the way the liens were dealt with in this legislation. It was our view that Canadians are put at a commercial disadvantage by the way that liens are treated in this legislation. I leave it for members to follow his discussion when he rises in the House in the not too distant future, probably before the end of today and if not today, then tomorrow. It will be most enlightening.
Let me point to the fact that the Canadian Bar Association, the national maritime law section, and the Canadian Maritime Law Association were impressed by the amendments the member brought forward and ones that he addressed on behalf of our caucus and parliamentarians with respect to the position that Canadian businesses would have relative to businesses originating in other places. Everything is very mobile on vessels on water and in Canadian ports. He focused, as we focused, on protecting Canadian business interests. His definitions and concerns were unfortunately not viewed with the same kind of appreciation by members of the government or the other opposition parties. However, they did accept that it was a view that was legitimate enough to be heard.
Interestingly, the Canadian Bar Association and Canadian Maritime Law Association felt that not only were the points made by my colleague from Brampton West absolutely apropos, and I hope they will accept this little jibe in a friendly fashion rather than in a negative malicious one, but in true lawyerly fashion they felt that it would not matter if they were not accepted because there were remedies in other courts. Canadian citizens are more interested in making sure that the law is much more specific rather than saying, “I can find remedies if I can get a lawyer who may be expert, who can find a judge and who will be prepared in his turn to hold the ship until I get my commercial interests addressed”.
At any rate, Mr. Speaker, those amendments were debated hotly in our committee. I say this because I know that you are interested in knowing that committees do not just receive things and rubber-stamp them, but they actually do their work. Those amendments did not go forward unfortunately, so we found ourselves in a position where we either accepted the bill in its totality and what it was designed to do, i.e., to generate greater protection for the Canadian environment, greater protection for Canadian businesses and greater protection for Canadian citizens, either we were going to hold it up or start to move forward. We adopted an incremental approach, one that says we will bring our concerns forward, as we did in committee and as we will in the course of this debate, and at the same time accept the legislation for what it will be.
The second item that created some concern for us was the issue that I am sure other members will address but that the parliamentary secretary has already alluded to, and that is the issue of adventure tourism.
Representatives from Wilderness Tours as well as from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada talked in terms of the kinds of insurance that are not available to adventure tourism operators. In fact, adventure tourism operators find it impossible in some instances to get the appropriate insurance liabilities in place for them to operate. It is with some regret that I would say we have to accept what this bill is trying to do and what it concludes in doing, and that is, it eliminates their legal responsibility to their customers by essentially saying they no longer have to have insurance as long as they can get an informed consent and a waiver before a potential client engages in the activity.
There are some in this country who think that is okay because a consenting adult engaging in adventure tourism, which by its nature is highly risk-oriented, cannot really hold somebody else responsible if there is an accident or, God forbid, a death. The person's family or close ones would have no recourse to the courts for liabilities if the person had engaged in one of those activities.
Personally, I have a different view, but it is not the view that carried the day in committee. For me, it is an abrogation of a responsibility on the part of government to say that if someone agrees to take all of those risks, the operator will not be held responsible for anything. I realize that is a philosophical position and I am willing to accept that people have a different view, but I do not like it.
Where I think we have some serious challenges is in, at the same time, absolving operators who might operate without the appropriate preparation and training of their staff and without the appropriate publication of the risks associated with something other than adventure tourism, like whitewater rafting, et cetera, for passengers who are viewers or passive passengers in these kinds of activities, without any recourse at all. The operators would be entitled to be held safe harmless from any future litigation provided they give an indication, they publicize an indication or they verbally tell people that people who engage in that activity are taking their body and their life in their own hands and they absolve the operators of all liabilities.
One of the most compelling of the witnesses, a local individual, indicated that over the course of the last 20-some years, his operation had paid, I believe it was, in excess of $1.2 million in premiums to insurance companies and the insurance companies, over that entire period of operation, had paid out a grand total of $70,000 in claims.
There are probably a few reasons for that. One of them is that the individual operates in a safe environment. The other is that there are not that many accidents. A third one is that once there is a signed public waiver, the cost to pursue a legal action in court would grow exponentially, and a lot of people would make the decision not to pursue their claim in court because it would cost more to pursue the claim than what the claim would eventually get them.
These are the kinds of anomalies in the legislation that, as I say, after we debated them, the committee decided that those concerns were not sufficiently grave to accept them as amendments. I am of a different view, but the legislation in its total deserves support. Again, some of these issues will be raised by some of my colleagues and I welcome their observations.
Marine Liability Act
May 13th, 2009 / 4:35 p.m.
Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, my follow-up question concerning Bill C-7 deals with the whole adventure tourism industry question.
I did sit in for a while at committee when the bill was being considered. It does not seem to me to be overly prudent to exclude the adventure tourism industry on a blanket basis and allow waivers to take the place of financial responsibility. I am really concerned that the public is not going to be protected with this measure.
I recognize that a lot of presentations were made at committee and that people have considered this whole option, but in spite of amendments being suggested that the member would support that would have helped this matter out, the committee decided to proceed with the exemption for the adventure tourism industry.
Is there some way other than making the industry take out insurance policies that the public could be protected? Could there be some sort of guarantee or a fund which the adventure tourism industry association could build up over a few years to pay for liability claims that result from certain accidents in this type of business?
Marine Liability Act
May 13th, 2009 / 4:40 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Marine Liability Act and the Federal Courts Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
During the few minutes I have to speak, I would like to take the time to go over the entire bill in order to ensure that our viewers have a clear understanding of this bill.
First of all, our party will be supporting this bill.
I would like to read part of the summary, which can be found on the first page of the bill, after the title:
This enactment amends Parts 3 and 4 of the Marine Liability Act to clarify certain rules of the limitation of liability of owners of ships for maritime claims and liability for the carriage of passengers, in particular the treatment of participants in adventure tourism activities.
The articles affected by this bill relate directly to liability and insurance. The bill limits the liability of shipowners in cases of maritime claims. This is a rather complicated text for shipowners. Among other things, it limits them to 2,000 units of account, because before the change, certain excesses in applying the act forced the industry to appeal to the government, asking that the legislation conform to international standards. That is the purpose of this bill.
The same applies to “liability for the carriage of passengers, in particular the treatment of participants in adventure tourism activities”. The act was amended in 2001, and all passenger carriers were required to have insurance. The Marine Liability Act makes shipowners liable and requires them to have insurance.
Shipowners wanted their claims limit to be the same as the international standard, so one sector in particular, the adventure tourism sector, approached the government. The sector has been having major difficulties since the amendments to the Marine Liability Act, which I mentioned earlier, came into force in 2001. Given the requirements for insurance and coverage, the premiums got so high that businesses had to close their doors or operate without insurance, becoming outlaws.
That is pretty hard to understand, unless we realize that adventure tourism operators are often small and medium-sized businesses. I will try to explain because I am not sure that all of the committee members have understood.
In his speech, the minister said that discussion of these amendments began in 2003. A committee considered the matter in 2005. The reason things are not any further ahead in 2009 is that we have had minority governments. It started back in the days of the Liberals, and the government has not had a chance to amend the bill.
The industry was under pressure from insurance companies, and their sky-high insurance rates were adjusted. Earlier, one of our NDP colleagues said that prices fluctuated in the insurance industry. Oddly enough, premiums have gone down this year because this bill is before the House. That is a fact. Faced with the fact that this bill will not apply to adventure tourism, insurance companies have finally talked to each other and decided to stop that kind of exploitation, which is exactly what it was. In terms of accidents, it has been shown that there are far fewer accidents related to adventure tourism than to waterskiing and downhill skiing, for example.
Adventure tourism covers river rafting operations, but some Niagara-based businesses take their clients right up to the falls.
We now have adventure tourism. I am smiling because I am a notary and sometimes we joke with our lawyer colleagues. One of the lawyers was saying that when he goes on an adventure tour, he wants to be safe. He wants to be on a boat that he knows is insured. He said he had gone on a whale-watching expedition. There are some on the St. Lawrence. Adventure tours now use small vessels for whale-watching, the same kind of boat used for river rafting. They can get closer to the whales but the risk is greater. There is a market for such expeditions. Some people like to take greater risks. If the lawyers do not wish to take risks, they can go on the big cruise ships, which carry insurance. Those who want a bit more excitement and adventure will take the smaller boats and try to get closer to the whales. That is the reality.
I was not referring to my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin because taking risks does not bother him. I have seen his photographs and he is not afraid to get close to the animals. He went on a photo safari and you have to be careful when you get close to the animals.
Adventure tourism is a growing market. We know that Quebec is lucky to have hundreds of thousands of bodies of water, lakes and beautiful rivers. There are many small and medium-sized companies in this sector and the lawyers mentioned that in Quebec many companies do not have insurance. They do not have the money to pay for the insurance. However, there is a market for this type of tourism and this bill addresses the situation. It excludes adventure tourism from this requirement, but not just haphazardly.
We must take the time to read section 37.1 of the act, on page 5 of the bill, which states:
This Part does not apply to an adventure tourism activity that meets the following conditions:
(a) it exposes participants to an aquatic environment;
(b) it normally requires safety equipment and procedures beyond those normally used in the carriage of passengers;
Of course, if the rafts go close to the whales or people go downriver in speed boats, passengers wear rescue belts and get some training before beginning the activity so that they are aware of the danger. People can always decide not to go if they do not want to. The operators have measures in place. The same clause also says that:
(c) participants are exposed to greater risks than passengers are normally exposed to in the carriage of passengers;
Yes, there are whale-watching excursions on bigger vessels on the St. Lawrence. People who do not want to take any risks go on those boats. Those boats have insurance. There is no problem. However, people who do want to take more risks are aware that they have to take more safety precautions. They have to wear their life jackets, which is not the case with cruise ships or day boats. I will read the next part of the clause:
(d) its risks have been presented to the participants and they have accepted in writing to be exposed to them;
All participants have to sign a document saying that they understand the risks and will not hold the operator responsible in case of an accident. The bill continues:
(e) any condition prescribed under paragraph 39(c).
This is about mandatory training, a short preparation course. That is how it works. It is not true that some people will not be covered. There are requirements. I think that people who have signed the document are aware that the activity requires more safety precautions because they are required to wear life jackets at all times. Sometimes things are done differently than on cruise ships or day boats. These people know that they are participating in adventure tourism and that if a serious accident happens, which nobody wants, after they have signed the waiver, they cannot sue the operator.
Of course, I can understand that people who do not take part in such activities will be thinking that they will end up not being covered by insurance if they are on a cruise ship. That is not what it is all about. We are talking about activity that is far closer to the aquatic environment. That is the reality. Think of white water rafting, but also of boats that go close to falls, like the ones at Niagara Falls. People want to see them up close, as close as possible, and things can go wrong.
It is the same thing when a person goes out whale-watching in an inflatable, in order to be able to get as close as possible. There have been reports on this. We have to respect aquatic life, but this is far closer than a person can get with a cruise ship or a day boat in order to observe marine life. We could name other similar activities. Those watching can surely think of a lot of other activities that take place on water.
When we are engaged in this type of activity, adventure tourism, and we have to sign a waiver in case of accident, i.e. something indicating that the operator will not be held responsible, we always have the choice of just not going. We have a choice not to take part in this activity, to say that we are not prepared to take responsibility on ourselves for what might happen. That does not mean we are unfriendly, and the operator will understand that. It is a reality, but we cannot prevent an industry from developing, especially in Quebec with all its waterways. There is such potential, and operators have succeeded in developing a clientele.
I might add that the young generation—which I hope I can still count myself as part of—wants a little more excitement in their lives and their activities. There is a whole generation of skateboarders and wakeboarders, and I know my colleagues have said how dangerous this is. People get hurt all the time doing water skiing and wakeboarding. I have a lakeside property and I know that. These, of course, are private properties and people who engage in these sports are responsible for their activities.
At present, there is real potential for activities that are much more participatory than passive, in other words, involving sitting and watching. Some people prefer to get more involved. We must recognize that. When legislation forces businesses to insure themselves, it is like winning the lottery. Insurance companies tell themselves that the legislation will force people to pay, either to their company or to another. They are charged so much that they cannot even operate, grow or even make a profit.
Of course, this bill addresses more than just that. I will continue reading from the summary, which can be found before the first page, and I quote:
It also amends Part 6 of that Act to implement the Protocol of 2003 to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992 as well as the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001. The enactment continues, in Part 7, the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund and modernizes its governance.
I am sure we all remember the Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska, which of course had certain repercussions for Canada. In order to avoid another situation like that, it is important that the oil pollution fund, created in Canada, is well funded, that enough money is collected, that the fund is properly governed and of course, that it is modernized to conform to international standards under the 2003 international protocol. This will allow us to renew it.
As I said, studies were conducted in 2005 and the industry had no criticisms in this file. Both the legal community and the industry agree. This file suffered too many delays to be passed quickly. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have been dragging their feet on this. They could have passed it quickly, but no, they delayed until 2009.
We have to modernize this fund, because we never know what sort of accident could happen. No one wants oil pollution. The Conservative government is looking at developing the Arctic. There is ice and there is the Northwest Passage. A lot is happening in this regard. But there could also be oil and fuel spills and shipwrecks.
We are taking more and more risks, and that always surprises me. There should be ice in the Northwest Passage. If people were really thinking about their children and grandchildren, the rest of Canada would have done as Quebec has done for a long time: it would have tried to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and complied with the Kyoto protocol. Then we might not be talking today about developing the passage through the Arctic for marine traffic. We would be talking about a good sheet of ice, a good ice floe. That would be good for us, for our children, for our grandchildren and for future generations. That is not what the Liberals started. They started making the ice melt in the north. The Conservatives have picked up where the Liberals left off, and they think that everything is great. That is a fact.
This is what happens when we do not take action to reduce greenhouse gases and we always say that it is not our fault and that things are worse elsewhere. We blithely talk about running ships through ice floes. And we create funds because there could be oil spills. The government is not developing the north and the Arctic for the sake of the people there, despite what it would have us believe. In fact, it is because of the undersea oil there. That is the real reason. There is a reason why the Russians are trying to take some of our land. While this is going on, we have to stand up.
As I said, if Canada had fought to reduce greenhouse gases, there would be nothing but ice in the Arctic and we would not be discussing this today. One day, people who are fed up will pass judgment on the Conservatives and the Liberals. Their children and grandchildren will tell them that when they were in the House of Commons, they did everything they could to despoil the planet.
Fortunately, the Bloc Québécois is Quebec's conscience in this House, At least, the written record will prove that we warned them. That, too, is a fact.
And now for the last part of the bill. Part 8 includes:
—general provisions relating to the administration and enforcement of offences under that Act and creates a maritime lien for Canadian ship suppliers against foreign vessels and establishes a general limitation period for proceedings not covered by other limitation periods.
This has given rise, once again, to debate between the legal community and the industry on the maritime lien, although not necessarily on the need for one, but on its implementation and the text that was tabled. The request was made by our Quebec and Canadian suppliers.
The United States has a lien. Some Canadian vessels must be repaired or may wish to obtain or purchase services or goods from American suppliers. If they do not pay, a lien is created and the ship can be seized. That is not the case in Canada. It does not apply to American vessels that arrive here. If our suppliers were not paid, there would be no way of asserting our rights or creating a lien on the ship. Canadian shipowners told us that we needed this legislation to be fair but that our Canadian vessels should not be covered by this legislation. We are asking for reciprocity with the United States. Having said that, we did not reach an agreement.
I will read the applicable clause of the bill because it is not that long. This is what clause 139 says about a maritime lien:
139. (1) In this section, “foreign vessel” has the same meaning as in section 2 of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.
(2) A person, carrying on business in Canada, has a maritime lien against a foreign vessel for claims that arise
(a) in respect of goods, materials or services wherever supplied to the foreign vessel for its operation or maintenance, including, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, stevedoring and lighterage; or
(b) out of a contract relating to the repair or equipping of the foreign vessel.
My colleague for Manicouagan is quite aware of this because he spends his time in such ports as the ones in Sept-Îles or Baie-Comeau. Thus—
Marine Liability Act
May 13th, 2009 / 5:10 p.m.
Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT
Madam Speaker, I thank all those who applauded me from across the House. That is very nice. It really speaks to the goodwill that came out of the transport committee in bringing forward the third reading of this bill to amend the Marine Liability Act.
I may not have served as much time as many of my august compatriots on the transport committee but in the time I have been here I did feel that this bill was a good example of parliamentarians working carefully on a bill that had very little partisan aspects to it and very little ideology. It is a pretty straightforward bill that would put into place certain international conventions and then ratify them. These conventions have been around for a very long time in which Canadian law has picked up, in one way or the other, over that time and there are provisions within those conventions.
The bulk of the bill's importance was within the conventions but that did not necessarily translate into the time the committee spent on those particular aspects of it. More of the committee's time was spent on the Adventure Tourism aspect of it and the opportunities for establishing liens against foreign vessels in Canadian waters.
The committee's work should be applauded by all members of the House because it does represent good work together. However, it is not like this committee does this all the time. We have differences. Quite clearly, the debate that took place over Bill C-9, the amendments to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, showed that when the issues are controversial and they speak to differences in ideological direction on the committee there will be a healthy debate and a strong presence by all parties.
The functioning of the committee is good but this is a committee that is also in charge of infrastructure. What I have seen here on the committee is a failure to deal with infrastructure issues. We saw that quite clearly with a vote at the last committee meeting on a motion brought forward by a Liberal member to examine right away the aspects of the infrastructure stimulus moneys that had been put forward in the budget. The motion was defeated because there was a reluctance on the part of two of the parties to deal with a very important part of parliamentary business, for which this committee is responsible. The committee has a responsibility to Canadians to ensure that the work that is going on under the infrastructure stimulus program is well understood and well expressed in the committee.
I find that these types of issues sometime need to come back to Parliament as well. We need to have exposure of what we are doing on the committee in order for the committee to work properly and for individual members on the committee representing their parties to understand that there is are reactions to the positions they take.
I was quite willing to accept that with Bill C-9. I had to come and stand up again in Parliament to debate amendments to try to bring sense to the bill as I saw it. I exposed the workings of the bill because I considered it inappropriate but I suffered the consequences in the vote and did not get what I wanted. Nonetheless, the House understood what was going on in the committee and it understood what was happening with the bill, which is a better situation for everyone. Infrastructure is important and I hope the committee will come around, as it has come around with Bill C-7, to work on the issues that are important and in front of the committee.
I mentioned earlier that two aspects of the bill were under some degree of scrutiny and that they were clearly understood by the committee as to their impact on citizens in Canada. The impact of ratifying conventions when enormous sums of money may or may not be utilized for the purposes of cleaning up oil spills or other types of pollution that occur in waterways was probably not that well understood by the committee and we simply accepted the good advice that came from a variety of witnesses and experts in international law who gave us the assurance that these larger issues matched up to what was good for Canada.
There is background to this. In May 2005, Transport Canada put forward a marine law reform discussion paper in which many of the points in the bill were brought out so that the legal communities had many years to take a look at it and understand what was happening with the larger conventions.
When it comes to the smaller issues, such as Adventure Tourism, there were many more grounds for improvement in the bill and the government, in bringing forward a number of amendments, admitted that, which was a good step forward. We have come to a better understanding of how Adventure Tourism waivers will work in the system and how this bill would enhance the ability of the industry, which is not a huge industry and a very seasonal industry.
I understand the Adventure Tourism industry because in my hometown of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, we have probably one of the largest whitewater rivers in Canada with class six rapids. For many years we had Adventure Tourism with rubber rafts on that river but the nature of the risk involved with these rubber rafts, bringing people in and putting them on the river, made the business of Adventure Tourism very difficult and expensive to operate.
Adventure Tourism is not a gold mine of opportunity and the cost of insurance is a drag on the system. The opportunity to use waivers to allow people to engage in Adventure Tourism is with the understanding that they take on the risk themselves for the activity that they are involved in as long as the operator provides a certain measure of safe conditions, equipment, professional conduct and trained guides. When those are in place, the waivers are acceptable and there is a prior understanding by the people involved in the Adventure Tourism that the waivers are something they can either accept or not participate in the activity. They have that knowledge prior to showing up at the river's edge with their families for the Adventure Tourism opportunity.
All of those things were discussed. We went through them in detail in committee and heard from many witnesses and I think we came to a satisfactory solution on Adventure Tourism. However, this would be the third attempt by Parliament to come to grips with it. There was a law in place prior to 2000, then another law was put in place in 2000 and now we have another law in 2009. This subject is not perfect and will not likely to be perfect but it is the third iteration of the understanding of the nature of the liability that Adventure Tourism operators take on.
This subject is not perfect, and not likely to be perfect, but this is the third iteration of the understanding of the nature of the liability that adventure tourism operators take on. We worked on it and I think in all conscience all parties tried to come to a good understanding on this issue.
Then we took on another issue that was controversial, and a number lawyers were present to debate this with us. This issue was the nature of maritime liens and whether maritime liens, as outlined in the bill, would be effective to ensure Canadian suppliers would get their money out of foreign boats before they escaped to the high seas.
There was considerable debate on this. There was a sense that if we gave it to the lawyers, it might not be good enough because lawyers might not be available, their fees might be too high, the timing might not work right and the foreign vessel would escape Canadian waters and the Canadian supplier would be out the dollars for whatever type of provision had been given to the boat. There were differences of opinion on it, but they were differences of opinion that were primarily technical. They were not going to stop a ship supplier from putting a lien against a boat. They might make it a little more difficult, they might make it expensive, but it was there for the ship supplier to do it.
This was the compromise we finally achieved in putting the bill forward to Parliament. My Liberal colleagues made valiant presentations about the nature of the lien and the nature of work of lawyers, and I thank them for that. The Liberal Party is well supported by lawyers. They like those intricate details of how these things work. I appreciate the work they did. I think we have came to a solution on that one.
The bill is now before us. The good work of the transport committee in agreeing to put the bill forward, with the unanimous support for it at the end, suggests it should pass through Parliament just like a foreign vessel slipping out of Canadian waters without paying its bill.
We are not at the end of debate at the transport committee. We saw this in the previous Parliament when the safety management system in the bill to amend the Aeronautics Act was fought tooth and nail by my party, and to good success. We kept it from coming back and being foisted upon the Canadian public in a fashion that it could have been without the hard work of the New Democratic Party. We stood day after day and debated the issue to ensure it did not go forward.
That kind of work will continue in the transport committee when the occasion requires it. At this point in time, though, we can be congratulatory and we can be happy about the work we have done. Parliament now has the opportunity to move forward in a consensual fashion with the Marine Liability Act.
Marine Liability Act
March 30th, 2009 / 12:25 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-7. It is a subject which I have spoken on in the last Parliament. I do not think this bill is an easy read at all.
As a preamble to this, I would like to indicate to members that when bills like this come before us and they have consequential amendments to other acts, it takes a fair bit of work. I think the other acts to which this bill would make some changes are probably another 200 to 300 pages worth of legislative material.
Some of the changes here are referred to as “consequential” changes. To consider a consequential amendment to another act means that one has to have an understanding of the context in which the changes are being made. More often than not, it would be something that members would have to consult upon.
With that bit of preamble, the conclusion is that this bill has some fundamentals which I think members will understand and they will look to their critics for some explanations. There are some subtleties within the bill which have some important ramifications.
We have just heard the debate on Bill C-2 where we were talking about a free trade agreement and one of the industries being impacted was the shipbuilding industry. Of course, there are many other industries which would have some favourable or unfavourable impacts depending on the sector that one is looking at. It is difficult.
There is no perfect solution, no perfect trade deal, but certainly we are a trading nation. I hope that members will consider that in the same vein that I hope they will consider the provisions of Bill C-7, which is an act to amend the Marine Liability Act and the Federal Courts Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
This particular bill clarifies the liability rules and regulations with respect to pollution damage from marine vessels and marine transport of passengers. It will provide greater protection for Canadians in the event of marine accidents.
Most of the changes in the act will codify commitments that we have made to international conventions, and there are many. For instance, in my years on the environment committee, in dealing with the Great Lakes and marine liability with regard to alien invasive species, even that isolated issue turned out to be very complicated when dealing with the international joint agency that deals with matters which occur on waters that are shared with the United States.
Issues such as liability of adventure tourism and adequate coverage in the event of marine oil spills are issues that we believe will need to be examined further by the committee.
Members will know that this is a bill which requires listening to what the experts have to say to get the basis of the areas of concern, the interpretation of some of the consequential amendments, and to look at the precedence as well as some of the risk areas which Canada faces. Certainly, in our history there have been some very serious matters with regard to marine liability issues as they relate to the federal courts.
This bill proposes to clarify and update the liability responsibilities of marine transport with respect to the carriage of passengers and oil pollution damage. The changes proposed will make our marine laws consistent with the international protocols.
Specifically, as I fan through the bill, the critical area is changing the liability limits for commercial and public purpose vessels carrying passengers to a capital limit of $350,000 per passenger. The amendments further invalidate waivers or any other contracts that might relieve operators of their liability to passengers. The bill also introduces regulations that may require operators of commercial and public purpose vessels to maintain insurance to cover liability to passengers.
As one can see, we can very briefly capsulize the significant changes that are being introduced in this piece of legislation and understand that once we have looked at the legislation in other jurisdictions and the protections referred to in various international covenants or protocols, we can understand why this is an important area for us to update our marine liability legislation.
The changes do make some exceptions for vehicles rescuing shipwrecked or distressed persons, inflatable vessels and vessels using paddles or oars, such as those used in adventure touring. These changes make our legislation consistent with the international convention of liability for maritime claims.
The bill also amends the Marine Liability Act to implement the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution. Compensation funds can compensate those damaged by oil spills up to $545 million per incident. The damage from oil spills, however, can be much greater. Bill C-7 allows Canada to join the international supplementary fund protocol that increases the maximum compensation for oil spill damages to $1.5 billion.
This is obvious in today's world with some of the history that we have had with regard to the transport of cargo, which has environmental risks, such as oil spills. We have seen the implications not only to marine life but in fact to whole ecosystems. The cleanup required is tremendously expensive. This bill would provide the mechanism whereby there would be the so-called insurance to take care of the extraordinary costs that may be incurred.
The international funds derive their funding from levies placed on ports importing oil. Canada's levies would increase to approximately 28¢ per tonne of oil received. So there is a participatory cost, but it is effectively like paying insurance. I believe this is probably a very important element of the bill which I think members would understand should be supported.
Bill C-7 also includes changes such as including damage compensation for bunker oil pollution and amending provisions related to administrative and enforcement of offences.
In the bill the proposed amendment will result largely from a maritime law reform discussion paper that was released by Transport Canada in May 2005 and the subsequent consultations that took place with many stakeholders in all sectors of the marine community.
Just as a side note, I should indicate that we have a large number of pieces of legislation which have had some false starts in this place, not being able to get through all the necessary stages of the legislative process. It is unfortunate because we do have important legislation which in fact is way behind where it should be.
A couple that are very dear to my heart are from our own Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. Both the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act are 25 years old and have not been updated. With regard to the Privacy Act, and knowing the problems with identity theft and other cyber crimes, it actually came in when the best computer we could get at the time was the Commodore 64.
We need to be very vigilant about allowing legislation to languish because of Parliament having difficulty in keeping itself focused. We must ensure that essential changes that come before Parliament are dealt with expeditiously, as necessary, and get to committee in order to deal with some of the substantive questions that members will have and should have.
However, when it gets down to it, we cannot afford to delay legislation in this place, particularly when it has had false starts in the past.
With regard to the importance to Canada, Canada does have some of the busiest waterways in the world. For example, each year our waterways pass through 365 million tonnes of international cargo, 7 million tonnes of oil, 7 million tonnes of domestic cargo, 40 million passengers, 16 million automobiles on ferries and 1.5 million people on cruise ships. The liability provisions and the insurance provisions are extremely important to have in place for the protection of all stakeholders, individuals and businesses alike.
The intent of the legislation, according to Transport Canada officials, is to set limits on liability and establish uniformity by balancing the interests of shipowners and other parties. This is something that we come across all the time. It is very rarely that there is a linear approach to any bill. There are usually other stakeholders who have different forces on them. We saw that in the debate earlier on Bill C-2 with regard to the trade bill. There may be some benefits to one industry, like pharmaceuticals, but the shipbuilding industry would be at a disadvantage.
Balancing the interests of the stakeholders is always very difficult and it takes some time to understand the basic principles. However, in this regard, it is fairly straightforward. I know we will hear from other members about the importance of securing and protecting our transportation obligations with regard to safety, security and protection for all all stakeholders involved.
The government has presented this bill as an environmental protection act. In fact, it is not exactly that. In the event of an oil pollution spill, civil liability of the owner of the vessel, combined with Canada's participation in the international oil pollution compensation funds, can compensate those damages by oil spills by up to $545 million per incidence, as I said. Damage from the oil spills, however, can be greater and, of course, the supplementary protocol fund can provide that protection up to $1.5 billion. However, this may not be adequate for oil spills. The Exxon Valdez oil spill, for example, cost an estimated $2.5 billion to clean up. It was an extraordinary amount of money but in a very sensitive area. We can understand why there are still other considerations for us with regard to even the coverages that are available. Are they reasonable and does it make for good government?
The government seems to feel that this bill would better protect Canadians from oil spills and assure polluters actually pay for what they do. However, in the real world, whenever there are costs, like the levies for the international protocol and the supplementary coverage, those costs of a business are ultimately passed on to the users of the service and therefore passed on to Canadians. We cannot isolate this and somehow consider, as we often have, that all of a sudden the owners of vessels who transport people or goods and materials are somehow the bad guys and we can dump all the problems off on them. In the real world they exist because they are providing goods and services in the best interests of Canada, which includes in the best interests of its people.
I am not really buying in very strongly about how this would protect Canadians from oil spills, et cetera. It is not an environment bill but it would help to, I guess indirectly, provide the coverage to ensure there is a mitigating factor in terms of being able to remediate any of the damage that may be caused by some of the incidents referred to in the bill.
The last section has to do with amendments that provide for some exceptions to vessels using paddles and oars, such as those used in adventure touring. It is an interesting area and something that is somewhat frivolous but these kinds of vessels are a thriving industry in many regions of Canada. To impact them when the risks associated with high liability impacts by some accidents is out of line with the kinds of things that are contemplated by the bill and what motivated the bill itself.
Those are just a few of the issues on which I am sure members will be commenting. I hope members will be supporting the bill to go to committee where we should look at some of the issues related to the coverages and the consequential amendments to other acts. This is something, admittedly, that is very difficult for a member at this stage, at second reading, to have been able to do the kind of work that is necessary. Bills come flying through the House to us and to access those bills and look at the consequential amendments in the context in which they are meant makes it very difficult for an individual member.
We have good critics who take the time to do this work and have addressed the legislation and the number of schedules and annexes. I notice that there are some areas within the bill that would be enforced immediately on royal assent, but there are other sections that would be deferred or delayed until order in council comes up, which means there will be some regulations made that will need to be dealt with.
It is an interesting issue. I have often thought that members of Parliament are asked to vote on bills that require extensive regulations and yet those regulations are not even prepared or exposed to the members until after the legislation passes at all stages in both chambers. That is why there is a scrutiny of regulations committee. Every regulation that is made must be pursuant to an enabling provision within the legislation and it should not be a case of backdoor legislation, as it were, changing the intent or adding new elements to the bill that would constitute making law through regulations. Some refer to it as cabinet made law.
The scrutiny of regulations committee's job is to ensure that, as regulations come through, they are checked to ensure the regulations are properly enabled within the legislation. Therefore, members should not be overly concerned about that.
However, I would make one recommendation to hon. members with regard to regulations generally. In an area where it is unclear in the legislation as to the scope or the intent of the amendment to the legislation, members must have the opportunity to make either the recommendation or an amendment to say that such amendment must go to the appropriate standing committee for its comment or perhaps its approval if it is serious enough. It is something that has happened in the past with regard to the reproductive technologies act that we spent a lot of time on pursuant to the royal commission on reproductive technologies. It was going to take two years to do the regulations and all those regulations had to go through the health committee before they could be gazetted and promulgated.
We can see that if there are areas in which there are potentially serious consequences to regulations, members should make every effort to seek from officials clarification as to the timeline, the importance, the significance and whether there is other information that may impact our assessment of the effectiveness of the proposed legislation.
Marine Liability Act
March 30th, 2009 / 12:55 p.m.
Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate on Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Marine Liability Act and the Federal Courts Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
As we have heard, this is a fairly extensive bill and some would say it is complicated. I am not sure it is completely complicated, but it is a rather extensive bill and it deals with issues of marine liability. I want to read from the summary in the bill to talk about some of the key things that are part of it. There is a section dealing with adventure tourism activities which is an important piece of this legislation, but it is not the part that I wanted to talk about specifically this afternoon.
The bill also amends part 6 of the act to implement the protocol of 2003 to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992, as well as the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001. It also deals with the ship source oil pollution fund and modernizes the governance of that fund. It also includes general provisions relating to the administration and enforcement of offences under that act and creates a maritime lien for Canadian ship suppliers against foreign vessels and establishes a general limitation period for proceedings not covered by other limitation periods.
I do not purport to be an expert on marine law or marine liability law, but I know that this is an area that is very crucial to Canadians and very crucial to how we protect our environment, how we protect our coastlines, how we protect animals and people who live near those coastlines who might be subjected to the ravages of an oil spill. Some say that this is a housekeeping bill, that it maintains currency with our international obligations and brings Canada's laws up to speed with the international treaties that we have signed and that it makes the language of our Marine Liability Act more up to date. These are important things that we do to keep on top of that, especially given the huge costs involved when there is an oil spill.
The ship source oil pollution fund is also something that is very important. It often applies when there is a mystery spill, when we do not know the source of an oil spill on our coastline or in our harbours in the waters of Canada. It is important that we have that fund, that it operate appropriately, that it meet the needs of our communities, of our coastlines, of our industries when there is that kind of oil spill.
This legislation increases the liability from an amount of $500 million to $1.5 million and that is a very important step. We have to make sure that the companies that cause pollution, that are responsible parties for oil spills and for bunker oil spills are held liable for their actions and that the principle of polluter pay is enforced in these important instances.
We know of the horrific damage that a significant spill can engender. We saw that with the Exxon Valdez, and on the east coast of Canada with the Arrow. We are lucky that we have not seen on significant tanker accidents on our shores as those were in recent years. We have seen many other spills along our coast and they do require our attention and laws to ensure that liability is properly assessed and that the responsible parties are made to pay the cost of cleanup. We must ensure that the responsible parties are made to face appropriate fines for activities where they are found to be liable for those accidents.
We know about the big oil spills, but a few years back after a smaller spill in Vancouver harbour, in Burrard Inlet, I asked for information about spills that happen on the coast of British Columbia. I received a document that indicated that through all of 2002 to mid-2007 there had been 4,130 oil spills on the coast of British Columbia. Some of them were very small, only a litre or so of oil, but some of them were much larger than that; in fact, 151 of them involved spills of greater than 1,000 litres.
Those are significant spills. Any spill of hundreds of litres at least is a significant activity. These kinds of spills happen all the time on the British Columbia coast. They are significant incidents, each and every one of them. They can affect industry on the coast. They can affect recreation. They can affect birds and mammals and other animals on the coastline of British Columbia. They can affect our enjoyment of the coastline and the environment. I am very concerned about the number of those spills.
It says something good about our reporting system that we know how many happened, where they happened and now much oil was involved in those incidents, but we have to work to ensure that they do not take place. However, if and when they do take place, we have to ensure that the system that is in place for dealing with them, the system for dealing with the liability caused in them, is the best it can possibly be. Proper consideration of this legislation will go some way to improving that system and improving the mechanisms that are in place.
Specifically, I want to talk about what happened off the coast of my riding of Burnaby--Douglas in July 2006. There was a significant spill into Burrard Inlet from a ship that was in Vancouver harbour. I got involved in this incident mainly because of concerns around some of the effects of what had happened.
I want to read a description of the actual occurrence that is taken from notes prepared from a meeting of the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spills Task Force in October 2006. A representative of the British Columbia ministry of the environment, Graham Knox, reported on this July 4, 2006 spill in Burrard Inlet in Vancouver harbour off the coast of Burnaby--Douglas.
Mr. Knox reported:
The MV André had spilled bunker fuel in Burrard Inlet on July 4, 2006. The spill volume turned out to be larger than first reported, and the [B.C.] Ministry [of the environment] was not notified promptly by the Canadian Coast Guard. Some birds were oiled, which raised an issue of Provincial vis-à-vis federal authorities. In addition, the wildlife organization hired to rehabilitate the birds was not paid for their efforts because the Responsible Party (RP) refused to cover all of the costs.
This report of the oil spill in Burrard Inlet on July 4, 2006 notes that there were some problems in the response to that oil spill, around establishing liability and around establishing the role of the responsible party in the cleanup. It is very important that we examine that and make sure that when these kinds of oil spills happen, the response is thorough and complete. This legislation we are debating today has a piece of that puzzle.
I want to talk about what the outcome of that was with regard to liability and the responsibility of the company that owned the ship. I am going to quote from a report on the InterShip Navigation Training Center website. It reports on marine incidents. It is used for training people in the shipping industry on how to appropriately respond to various kinds of incidents that shipping companies and their employees face.
This site's report on the incident in July 2006 states:
M/V ANDRE (Hong Kong, 17000gt)'s company pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay $80,000 for spilling 7.5 tons of fuel oil in the harbor while bunkering in Vancouver BC in July 2006. Of the fine, $5,000 will go to the Canadian Wildlife Service for research and conservation at a migratory bird habitat. The HK owner is also responsible for cleanup costs estimated at $700,000. The reason for the spill is an open valve that should have been closed, -- a mistake by a crewmember.
This report is dated the 30th of November, 2007.
We can see the result of this oil spill in Vancouver harbour. First, the extent of the spill was not properly assessed by the Coast Guard and reported to the B.C. Ministry of the Environment. There were problems in establishing jurisdiction over some of the bird and wildlife victims of the oil spill. A court case resulted from this. A fine was paid and some of that money went to wildlife, migratory bird habitat conservation. There were also significant cleanup costs of $700,000 for what was a relatively small spill, but not an insignificant spill. It is good that the bill would raise the liability limits from $500,000 to $1.5 billion, particularly when we see the cost of this relatively small spill.
I want to talk about what happened with the wildlife in the case of the spill in Burrard Inlet. The problem arose when local Wildlife Rescue Association and Burrard Clean, the organization that comes into play immediately when there is an oil spill in Vancouver Harbour, came in. Burrard Clean would also contact organizations to take care of any birds or animals affected by the spill. It contacted an organization called Focus Wildlife, which began the rescue and rehabilitation of the birds and animals affected. The local Burnaby based Wildlife Rescue Association was involved in assisting Focus Wildlife in this operation.
The concern was that the responsible party, the shipping company, was unwilling to pay for the full extent of the cleanup related to the animals and birds affected. There was confusion and a lot of bickering back and forth about how much would be paid for, how extensive and when the responsibility for the rehabilitation of the animals and birds affected would end. It took a lot of pressure from the community, the local member of Parliament, myself, and from others to ensure that this cleanup and the animals affected were not abandoned completely.
It put Focus Wildlife in a very difficult position. The responsible party, the shipping company, was refusing to continue payment for the rehabilitation of the birds and animals affected to the point that international standards would require. It wanted out long before that stage was reached and before it was ensured that the animals had been fully rehabilitated and were ready for release back into the environment.
It was a serious issue and there was not a good resolution to it. It took a lot of energy of local people, the folks who were concerned about that, to continue the rehabilitation and rescue efforts for the birds and wildlife affected.
The fact that Focus Wildlife was not paid fully for its efforts was very significant. However, we appreciate the fact that it continued its efforts despite the confusion about how payment would be made,
At the time, I wrote to the minister of the environment to say that I thought the Canadian Wildlife Service and Environment Canada should cover the costs of Focus Wildlife, including any shortfall between the cost of its services and what the responsible party was willing to pay, including any charges after July 14, which was when the company wanted to pull out. That was ten days after the spill occurred. I said it was necessary that they cover those costs until the conclusion of treatment and rehabilitation of all the affected birds. International standards should be governed by that. We have to ensure that international standard is the full policy of the Canadian Wildlife Service with regard to such oil spills. The birds and other wildlife affected by this kind of environmental accident, environmental disaster, must be treated as the innocent victims.
The other thing is, in this kind of spill, it became a curious federal-provincial jurisdictional dispute where the province was responsible for non-migratory birds and the federal government was responsible for migratory birds.
In this circumstance Canada geese and cormorants were largely affected. However, the Canada geese in Vancouver harbour really do not migrate anywhere any more, yet somehow they were the responsibility of the federal government. Cormorants tend to get around a bit more even though they are considered non-migratory. They were considered the provincial birds. Therefore, there was confusion on that angle.
There was also confusion about what to do with the Canada geese. Some folks believed they were a nuisance in B.C. and it would be alright to let a few of them die off as a result of this accident, which I found to be a completely unacceptable approach. I would urge, and have urged, that all animals affected by such oil spills be treated as the victims and rehabilitated to the best of our ability.
We also need to have a clear policy on the euthanization of affected birds and mammals, as well, to ensure that every effort is put into their rescue and rehabilitation and that euthanization is used only when it is shown by veterinarians to be impossible to rehabilitate. It should not used for other reasons in this kind of disaster.
That whole incident led me to propose a motion in the House, and it is still on the order. It states:
That...the government should immediately strengthen the National Policy on Oiled Birds and Oiled Species at Risk, and all Oil Spill Response Plans by ensuring that: (a) the Canadian Wildlife Service has the mandate and authority to ensure that all migratory birds, species at risk and other wildlife affected by an oil spill are captured, cleaned and rehabilitated; (b) euthanasia be used only when medically necessary; and (c) the responsible party for an oil spill be assessed the full cost of the capture, cleaning and rehabilitation process.
This is an important aspect of marine liability and we need to be very clear about it in our policies and legislation. I hope, when this important bill, Bill C-7, gets to committee, these implications of marine liability will also be part of the discussion there.
We need the most up-to-date, modern and comprehensive marine liability laws that we can possibly have. I believe, and many people in my constituency would also agree, that birds and animals must also be part of the provisions of our marine liability legislation and any of the legislation or policies that flows from it. That is why it is important to also consider the question of the policies of the Canadian Wildlife Service and Environment Canada surrounding oiled birds and mammals.
While this is complex legislation, I do not think that complexity should be debilitating to members of the House or members of the committee. It is important that we understand the implications of the legislation. We need to update the legislation in light of our international obligations, and that is clearly something we should be obligated to do.
The increase of liability amounts is also very important when we consider the costs of oil spill cleanups, both major incidents and minor incidents. The example of the Burnaby oil spill and the Burrard Inlet oil spill in July 2006, being a relatively small one, also shows the huge expense involved even with a spill of that size.
We also need to ensure we enforce the whole notion of polluter pay, that responsible parties must be required to take responsibility for their actions and accidents they cause, that there be no way out of it and that they be required to follow through on this responsibility.
The universal declaration on animal welfare, in which Canada is not yet participating in its development, would be another place where Canada could follow through on some of the implications of this kind of policy.
As I said, it is important to get this legislation to the committee where it can be thoroughly discussed and reviewed. I hope the situation of the oil spills in Burrard Inlet is instructive for our folks on the committee. I hope we can ensure the legislation addresses all oil spills, large and small, that occur on our coastlines and ensure we have the best possible liability provisions in place should those kinds of accidents happen.
Marine Liability Act
March 30th, 2009 / 1:45 p.m.
Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill. Three areas of my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca are surrounded by the beautiful Pacific Ocean. The Straits of Juan de Fuca curve around the southwestern part of my riding. It is truly a gorgeous part of the world and I invite everybody to come down and visit.
This bill is particularly important, not only to my riding but also to Canadians from coast to coast to coast. It does have some good parts to it but I will outline some of the flaws, the neglect and the disinterest that the government has applied to our oceans and waterways since it came into power. I also will provide the government with solutions that will enable it to do the right thing and make changes that are reflective of the public interest with respect to the management of our oceans and of our navigable waters.
We know that our oceans provide life. Ninety-seven percent of the world's water is in our oceans, made up of 3% of salt, and 1.35 billion cubic kilometers of water exists in our oceans. From the phytoplankton that provides the cornerstone and the basis of the food pyramid to the larger mammal species, it is truly a remarkable thing to behold.
The oceans are also critically important to our lives. I will go through a number of things that will outline the problems and solutions that affect our oceans that only urgent action will address.
Before I go on, I want to deal with the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act because they are extremely important to all Canadians. As I said before, navigable waters are designed, if one can navigate through it, it is determined to be a Crown property and therefore subject to federal regulation. To arrest that, the government, in parts of Bill C-10 that it put forward, eliminated environmental assessments with few exceptions for development products on Canadian waterways. Second, it allowed Canadian rivers to be separated into those that were deemed to be worthy of being protected from those that were not deemed to be worthy of being protected. These classifications would be made not in a public forum, but in cabinet, in-House with no public assessment and no public input, in secret. Fourth, these decisions could be made on political expediency without any effort to apply science, research and environmental protection.
In my view we need to, first, restore the existing environmental assessment requirements; second, remove the minister's discretion on major construction projects as listed in the legislation, specifically dams, causeways, bridges and booms; and third, remove the power of government to arbitrarily divide Canada's rivers into those it considers worthy versus those it somehow considers less valuable.
The free passage of Canadians on our waterways goes as far back in history to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. However, in Bill C-10, the government ripped up that arrangement between the people of our country and their rights to the navigable waters of our nation. This will be a big issue in the next election. The government is now put on notice that it must make the changes or it will pay the price in the next election.
I want to speak to the issue of boats. In many of our ridings, people dump their boats into the ocean and walk away. There is no repercussion whatsoever for individuals who dump their boats into the ocean. These boats are an environmental hazard and a human hazard. In fact, a person in my riding was climbing into one of these boats and died as a result of it.
What the municipalities are finding is that the federal government will not take responsibility for the boats, nor will the individuals, and the province washes its hands. The municipalities now have an environmental problem with no ability to deal with it.
I call upon the government to deal with this issue and develop a process whereby the owners of these boats will be held responsible for removing them and, if they are not removed, the owners will be prosecuted. In my riding of Sooke, British Columbia, we have more than 20 boats that need to be removed because they are a hazard.
The largest boondoggle in Canadian history is about to take place in Victoria. It is a $2 billion sewage treatment plant that is not necessary at all and the science does not support it.
In British Columbia right now we have what is equivalent to secondary sewage treatment. The secondary sewage treatment happens as a result of the natural ebb and flow that exists within the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Contrary to the knowledge of some, sewage goes through, ends in an outfall and is sieved all the way through. Nothing larger than something that is six millimetres in diameter is actually released.
The problem that Victoria has, from an environmental perspective, is that its storm drainage system is fractured and it has become the source of the environmental hazards that we have now. It is a $2 billion infrastructure project of which the public will not get the gains that governments believe they will have. It will not remove the persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, toxins, pathogens and pharmaceuticals that we want to get out.
How do we deal with that? We invest in a storm drainage system and have better source control than what we have, and, for heaven's sake, do not pursue this $2 billion boondoggle that is about to happen in Victoria.
It is not by accident that I have on our side of those who are against this, six chief medical officers in the greater Victoria area who think this is a boondoggle. Eight of the top ocean scientists at the University of Victoria think this is a boondoggle. The responsible sewage treatment group is made up of six chief medical officers and more than ten top ocean scientists.
The government should listen to the science and to listen to the chief medical officers. They are the ones who know. They have the science. This current project is not following the science. I warn the government that it will run into a very serious problem of a $2 billion boondoggle that it will wear unless it deals with the science, listen to the facts and work together with the groups that can put forth the effective infrastructure projects that will deal with the problems that the government and those of us who live in Victoria are deeply concerned about. However, this is not the way to go.
On the issue of the Coast Guard, the government put forth a Coast Guard assessment for Victoria. I must say that the Straits of Juan de Fuca is one of the busiest shipping zones in the entire world. However, what is shocking is that Victoria has no close-by ability to respond with its Coast Guard to a crisis that will occur in and around Victoria. This is a problem that needs to be rectified.
The Coast Guard did an assessment. There are solutions that have been sitting there for years. A 40-plus foot boat is sitting in Sidney doing absolutely nothing. I urge the government to move that boat to Victoria to provide the rapid response that is needed for crises that can and will occur in the Straits of Juan de Fuca.
Ocean traffic is a very big concern for those of us who live on Vancouver Island. All of us know that if a tanker runs aground in the area we will have a catastrophic oil spill. We have had some misinformation and a lack of clarity on this particular issue. I strongly recommend that the government provide clarity on the use of double hulled ships in the straits and to provide an effective conduit for tankers so they will not go through areas that are narrow and where the threat of a tanker to run aground is very high.
That route needs to be established, clarified and communicated to the people of British Columbia. and it should be done as soon as possible.
The Arctic is a serious challenge. We know the government, justifiably, has a new interest in this, which we commend and applaud. However, there are aspects in the Arctic that need to be addressed. One of the central keystone species in the Arctic is a small Arctic cod. That Arctic cod is going to be fished by countries like Finland and that will have catastrophic impacts upon the other species that live in the region.
I will put this into context. This means that one-third of all sea mammal species are threatened or on the brink of extinction. This needs to be addressed because as these species are tied into the web of biodiversity that we have in our world, they are part of the chain of life. If we take out a part of that chain, then the rest of the chain can be negatively affected. We are a part of that food chain. I strongly recommend that the government deal with this.
The next point I want to make is on the issue of forestry practices. People in my province are cutting down trees right to the edge of salmon bearing streams. There is a severe lack of oversight and accountability and the impact is what we are seeing right now and one of the contributing factors of the collapse of our salmon species on the west coast. We do not want to see our fishermen in British Columbia fall to the same fate that happened on the east coast with the collapse of the cod fishery. We need to do things today to prevent the collapse of the salmon fishery on the west coast from happening so we can have a sustainable fishery within Canada on the west coast. I strongly urge the federal government to work with the provincial government to establish enforced forestry practices codes that do not allow companies to deforest right down to the water's edge.
In official development, we have an opportunity to deal with taking the forests of the world and indulge in something called REDD. REDD is a program that pays for critical habitats and forests to not be cut down. This could be part of Copenhagen, part of Kyoto 2. The minister could link up human development with environmental protection. There are solutions to that missing link and we will get to that, I am sure, after question period.
Marine Liability Act
March 30th, 2009 / 3:40 p.m.
Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON
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--
Marine Liability Act
March 30th, 2009 / 4 p.m.
Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the member's statements and I have a question for him.
Upon reading the bill, it seems to me that the current legislation gives equal liability treatment to passengers or customers whether they are riding a ferry or on a sightseeing trip. The same treatment is given to people who are involved in much more risky activities, such as whitewater rafting, kayaking, whale watching or Zodiacs. People involved in those sorts of activities are accepting a much higher risk than people riding ferries or on sightseeing cruises.
With Bill C-7, we are, in a way, giving preferential treatment. We are taking away the liability of the adventure tourism industry which, right now, are having to buy insurance policies to cover the liability.
If the member or his son and daughter were taking a trip on a ferry and there was an accident, they would be covered up to a certain level under the law and would be covered in the same way right now if they were riding in a Zodiac or whitewater rafting. This would exempt the whole group of adventure tourism companies and allow them to have waivers, which is not allowed under the current act, which means they would get away from buying insurance and protecting their passengers by having customers sign waivers saying that they are responsible if something happens to them.
I wonder whether this is something we should be taking a closer look at. We would be allowing a group to get out of the responsibilities it has right now. Insurance companies put tough requirements on industries, and maybe that is the way it should be. Should we be allowing an industry, which is riskier, to get out of providing liability, letting their customers sign waivers and putting the responsibility on children who may be hurt? The tourism operator will tell the tourists that it is their problem, that it will not pay out.
Does the member think we should be exempting operators and does he think that is fair?
Marine Liability Act
February 25th, 2009 / 3:55 p.m.
Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to discuss with my hon. colleagues an opportunity for each of us to work together to protect our environment from the effects of marine pollution from ships, which all Canadians want us to do.
If the government's proposed amendments to the Marine Liability Act, as outlined in Bill C-7, are passed into law, they would have important environmental and economic impacts for all Canadians.
Together we can better protect Canadians from oil spills and ensure polluters actually pay for what they do. We can protect Canadians aboard passenger vessels, ensure the continued viability of a very important tourism sector and provide fairness for Canadian businesses that supply ships.
The act as it stands now is very ill-equipped to tackle the realities of marine transport today and inadequate to realize our 21st century ambitions.
Before I review our proposed amendments in detail, I would remind all hon. members of how important marine transportation is to Canada and Canadians.
As a trading nation, Canada relies on shipping to provide Canadians with one of the world's highest standards of living. In 2007, for instance, ships carried more than 365 million tonnes of international cargo. This represents some $160 billion worth of international trade and includes more than $81 billion in exports. That $160 billion is a staggering sum to say the least.
Seventy million tonnes of cargo are transported domestically each year by ships operating between Canadian ports on the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic coasts; along the St. Lawrence Seaway; and throughout the Great Lakes system.
Canadian ferries actually carry some 40 million passengers and 16 million automobiles each and every year. They are also part of daily commuting for many Canadians in cities such as Halifax and Vancouver.
Almost 1.5 million people, Canadians and foreign visitors alike, enjoy scenic cruises on Canadian waters each and every year.
Shipping is among the most efficient modes of transport and among the most effective in reducing road congestion, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that is important to our future.
Transport Canada is collaborating as I speak with Canadian industry and the governments of the United States and Mexico to promote a more ecological use of North American shipping routes. We are encouraging increased shipping of people and goods along our coasts and using internal waterways.
With the possibility of increased shipping and marine traffic in potentially sensitive areas of Canada's Arctic, we must take steps right now to ensure that Canada is ready for this growth.
Our government is absolutely determined to protect our Arctic areas, which we will do by passing the measures before us with the help of our other colleagues in this place.
Marine transport is absolutely essential to Canada's economic viability in the future. We see it as a real growth industry for Canada. It can also, however, constitute a potential risk to people, to goods and to the environment. Hence, the reason for the bill. Most of these risks actually stem from the potential for mishaps inherent in most forms of industrial activity and all modes of transport. Most notable in shipping is the risk of collisions or grounding during which passengers and crew members can be injured, not to mention the risk of oil spills and other similar situations that arise as a result of these incidents.
These amendments would build upon initiatives that this government has already taken while fostering marine transportation activity to improve Canada's economy.
Shipping is a global activity and, therefore, it needs globally harmonized rules.
Canada is a founding member of the International Maritime Organization and has worked diligently toward multilateral solutions for issues facing marine transportation.Achieving global consistency in these rules would benefit the marine industry and Canada's trade with other nations and, ultimately, all Canadians.
These amendments would demand that commercial ships which carry Canadians have proper insurance. This covers all ships including commuter ferries and tour boats, and it simply makes sense for today's environment. This is not an unjust burden. We do it for the airline industry, why not the marine industry? Should Canadians feel less secure or be less safe on a ferry or a tour boat than on an airplane? We in this Conservative government do not think so. Canadians should feel safe and be protected in whatever mode of transportation they choose.
Canadians will be further protected while small businesses like whitewater rafting companies and sea kayaking guides, for example, will not be burdened by unfair economic regulations. During this particular time of global economic hardship we do not want to place any onerous regulations on small business owners that could potentially have serious consequences for the adventure travel industry, the individual owner, or indeed, seasonal employees.
Tourism is also a very important sector of the economy and is actually in a state of growth. Thousands upon thousands of Canadian jobs depend on tourism. These amendments would ensure that Canadians are protected while meeting the unique needs of marine adventure tourism. Most importantly, from an environmental perspective, these amendments to the Marine Liability Act would enhance the liability and compensation regimes that Canada has in place to respond to oil pollution from ships.
Canada has one of the longest coastlines in the world. We are bordered by three oceans and we use ships to carry a very significant portion of our trade each year. Large volumes of oil and other petroleum products pass through our ports every year, some 70 million tonnes annually. Much of that is on tankers with far bigger capacities than for instance, the Exxon Valdez, and most of us remember what happened in Alaska in 1989 in relation to that disastrous spill.
With the limitations of our current legislation Canada simply would not be able to cope with a spill of that magnitude if one were to happen tomorrow in our waters. Despite advances in both safety and technology, marine shipping spills still continue to happen. These damage the environment and often damage local economies. We cannot have that continue without some form of liability and compensation to those affected.
I am thinking in particular of the Hebei Spirit incident in South Korea in December 2007, after the vessel collided with another ship. That spill had huge costs and highlighted the need for a more effective response mechanism.
One does not need to go as far as Korea, however, to see the devastating effects of oil spills. We can simply look back at Canadian history. Many of us may recall the Kurdistan incident off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1979 or the Rio Orinoco incident near Anticosti Island in Quebec in 1992, or indeed even the Irving Whale incident of 1970 off the coast of Prince Edward Island.
While none of these spills was as big or as damaging as the Exxon Valdez or even the Hebei Spirit incident, a spill is a spill and is not acceptable, and Canada's luck may one day run out. That is why it is so important to continue with this aggressive stance in this legislation.
The bottom line is every day that we delay taking action and not putting in place the measures in this bill we add to the risk of victims going on without adequate compensation. That is not acceptable. People like fishermen and tourism operators who depend on the sea and waterways for their livelihoods need this protection.
These amendments would actually do something very significant. They would actually triple the level of compensation available to victims of oil spills from the maximum of $500 million, which seems like a great sum but it is not in these kinds of situations, to $1.5 billion, a tremendous sum. That is $1.5 billion for each and every incident. These massive increases in compensation would ensure strong protection for Canadians and the environment while maintaining a balance between associated interests, namely the ship owners and the oil companies that pay contributions into the fund's system. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for these costs.
Our government believes in holding polluters absolutely accountable for their actions. With the help of this legislation we will hold them accountable.
The bill also introduces an enhanced regime for shipowner liability for spills of bunker oil used to propel ships. These types of spills tend to be more common than those coming from larger tankers because virtually all ships sailing today use this type of oil. These kinds of spills happen in Canada often and can actually cause a lot of damage to the ecosystem.
Like the requirement already in place for tankers, this bunker oil liability regime would include a compulsory insurance provision which is a good thing. We need to ensure that shipowners can make good on their obligations. They need to be able to compensate as a result of their negligence or inaction.
I should note that these enhancements would enable Canada to also ratify two international maritime organization conventions that are based on the polluter pays principle. The benefits to Canada of continuing its long standing multilateral approach to international shipping and the ratification of these two conventions are very obvious.
Canada is behind the world currently on this issue and this Conservative government will ensure that Canada catches up and protects Canadians and our environment. In this we have the full support of industry as well which accepts its liability under the act and the international conventions.
It should also be noted that the amendments that we are discussing here today would actually establish a mandatory insurance requirement for passenger ships as well. Canadian businesses would benefit also and these amendments would put Canadian companies supplying foreign ships docked in our ports on equal footing with their American counterparts.
Currently, if a foreign ship does not pay its bill, Canadian companies are simply out of pocket. Under this bill that would change. Increased fairness would be achieved by providing our Canadian ship suppliers with a maritime lien, much like a building lien, as security for unpaid invoices.
These are Canadian companies that supply ships that call at Canadian ports with everything from fuel to water, to food and equipment that is being purchased. Today these businesses do not have the same rights as American businesses who supply the same ship in their own port. Not even our own courts here in Canada will do this. That is because American ship suppliers benefit from a lien in American law which can be enforced in Canadian courts.
These Canadian businesses have been telling the government for some time that they also need the same protection. This Conservative government is delivering that protection to them.
In conclusion, I would like to remind the House that with this legislation we are going to do four specific things: first, protect Canadians against oil spills and make sure that polluters pay; second, protect Canadians aboard passenger vessels which is so important; third, ensure the continued viability of an important tourism sector; and fourth, provide fairness for Canadian businesses that supply ships.
We believe that these proposed amendments are the very right thing to do and the best thing to do going forward. They strike the balance to encourage environmentally responsible marine transportation and to protect the interests of Canadians. That is why we are here in this place.
We are modernizing an outdated act and these are all changes that all Canadians can agree upon. I urge all hon. members to give the bill their unanimous support. I look forward to working with them when the bill reaches committee. I believe that we will be able to find very common ground and move forward with this legislation effectively and positively for the benefit of all Canadians.