Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to give my speech and my opinion on the bill before us. For the benefit of those present today, I will repeat that this is the third reading of Bill C-3, An Act to enact the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act, to amend the Aeronautics Act, the Canada Marine Act, the Marine Liability Act and the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
This bill will amend a great many laws on marine safety, mainly with respect to the transportation of dangerous and toxic products, especially petroleum products.
A number of witnesses told us what they thought about the proposed amendments. The NDP proposed amendments to the bill that the government did not accept. That is very unfortunate because the current bill is a step in the right direction, but a far cry from what it should be.
To add context I would like to quote Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. He has repeatedly given us benchmarks so that we have an accurate picture of the state of marine safety with respect to the transport of hydrocarbon products. This is what he had to say in 2010:
The Canadian Coast Guard, the lead federal agency for responding to ship-source oil spills, has not conducted an assessment of its ship-source oil spill response capacity since 2000. While concerns have been raised regarding the state of the Coast Guard’s oil spill response equipment, given the lack of recent capacity analyses and the lack of up-to-date knowledge on risks, the Coast Guard does not know if its ship-source oil spill response capacity is appropriate to address those risks.
In the meantime, Canada lacks a formal framework for responding to chemical spills, including clear roles and responsibilities.
I would like to remind members that he said that in 2010. It seems that the message was not heard. In 2012, the commissioner again pointed out the following in his annual report:
The potential impacts of an offshore oil spill in Atlantic Canada, such as seen in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, could be widespread and devastating to the environment, industry, and the livelihoods of many Canadians. As a result, it is essential that the offshore petroleum boards manage the risks and impacts associated with the oil and gas activities they regulate.
As I said, that was in 2012. The message still had not gotten through, so the commissioner brought up the problems yet again in his 2013 report, which stated:
The federal government has an important leadership role to play in protecting species and spaces and implementing a sustainable development agenda. Leadership means first identifying where the federal government can add the most value, finding the most cost-effective way to do so, investing what it takes to add that value, and finally, following through on commitments. Fulfilling current promises is critical, because commitments are only the first steps toward the research, protection, and recovery needed. Building on progress and successes such as the Habitat Stewardship Program and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, for example, is also vital.
In 2013, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development once again reported that we did not have the equipment and were not ready to respond to spills at sea.
I would like to close with a quote from Danielle Giroux, spokesperson for the St-Lawrence Coalition, who expressed her opinion on the commissioner's comments. These quotations are from the David Suzuki Foundation website.
Danielle Giroux said:
As the governments of Quebec and Newfoundland prepare to open the Gulf of St. Lawrence to oil exploration, this report confirms that we are in no way prepared to respond to any incident related to this extractive activity. We do not have the technical resources to prevent or clean up the mess, nor do we have the financial guarantees to cope with it. This report is a cold shower for the coastal communities that depend on the health of the Gulf for their own well-being.
This bill is about financial liability in case of an oil spill. Compensating people if their industry is destroyed by an oil spill is all well and good, but what about rebuilding the industry if it is damaged by an oil spill? Remember the Exxon Valdez? Oil from that spill is still washing up on shore. The Irving Whale sank in the Gulf of St. Lawrence 30 years ago, and people in the Magdalen Islands, in my riding, are still picking up chunks of oil that wash up on the sand every year. A spill never really goes away; the fallout lasts for years.
We have to think about the long term when we talk about compensation. The fishing industry in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in the Atlantic, off the west coast and potentially in the Arctic is a sustainable activity that can go on indefinitely. If an oil spill damages this industry, we need to make sure that it can continue to exist, rather than thinking about financial compensation. We need to think about what can be done to limit the impact of a spill.
Rather than talking about what type of insurance policy is needed to financially compensate people for a year's income, I would like the government to talk about what it is going to do to ensure that the tourism, fishing and seabed mining industries remain sustainable.
I would like to give some statistics that show the value of the industries we are talking about. In the Magdalen Islands, fishing and the related industries, particularly the processing industry, represent $100 million per year. In the Gaspé, lobster fishing alone represents $15 million per year. In 2010, in the Gaspé, the landing value of fishing was $85 million. Landings in the lower St. Lawrence, the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands account for two-thirds of all landings in Quebec. Tourism generates $280 million a year in my region.
In the bill before us, we are talking about an insurance policy that would provide $230 million in compensation. That is not even equivalent to the revenue generated in one year by the tourism industry. I would like to remind hon. members that if the beaches in the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands are polluted with oil, there will not be very many tourists. One year of compensation in the amount of $230 million will not restore the industry in my region. The region will be decimated. This bill does not meet the needs of my constituents; that is clear. If it does not meet their needs, it obviously does not meet the needs of constituents in neighbouring ridings either.
When it comes to cleaning up oil spills, the bill indicates that companies will be responsible for cleaning up up to 10,000 tonnes of oil. In eastern Canada, there is currently talk of a project in Belledune that could involve the marine transport of four times that amount of oil. There is also talk of a potential project in Cacouna, not far from Rivière-du-Loup, involving the marine transport of almost 10 times that amount of oil. Today, the marine transport of oil in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is equivalent to approximately 82 million tonnes per year. The bill stipulates that the company would be responsible for cleaning up only 10,000 tonnes. That is not enough. It is not nearly enough.
Today, an oil tanker carries at least four times the quantity proposed in this bill in the event of a spill. A standard Suezmax or Panamax oil tanker may contain at least four times more than what this bill is proposing. If one of these ships is involved in a spill, the company would be responsible for just one-quarter of it. Who will be responsible for the rest? Canadians.
Once again, Canadians are being asked to assume the risk socially, while the benefits are being privatized. Companies will get off the hook and make huge profits. Everyone knows the oil industry is very profitable. Canada's oil exports have tripled in the past five years, and they are expected to triple again in the next three.
Huge quantities of oil will pass very close to our coastal communities, which depend on fishing, forestry and tourism, all traditional and sustainable industries. As for the oil industry, we are not equipped for a spill, period.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence is one of Canada's main oil transportation routes, and it freezes in the winter. It ices over. What will happen if a spill occurs on the ice? We are not equipped to clean up a spill like that. Let us take things one step at a time.
It is all well and good to want to make companies liable for up to $230 million, but it is nowhere near enough. It is better than what we have now, where companies are liable for $35 million. At least that will go up to $230 million. A year ago, the Conservatives were talking about $1 billion, but they decided it was too much.
I would remind the House that some countries put no limit on a company's liability. Norway, for example, has no limit. Companies responsible for a spill are responsible for the cost of cleanup, period.
By the way, Norway's oil economy is not suffering. Growth is good and the industry is doing well. The country has money and is protecting the environment at the same time. Both are possible. I do not know why we in Canada cannot understand that companies need to be accountable. If the polluter is not liable, someone else will be, and that will be us, the taxpayers. I think taxpayers have paid enough already.
The government keeps saying that taxpayers are paying too much. Frankly, if the government is trying to tell Canadian taxpayers that they should be subsidizing oil companies, Canadians will be left scratching their heads and wondering why they should have to compensate them.
Those companies have plenty of money, since that industry is extremely profitable. I think they can start assuming liability for any pollution they might cause.
A boat will not necessarily cause a spill, as we know. Some boats go up and down the east or west coast on a daily basis. They go by all the time. I just have to look around me when I am at home. I see boats passing by carrying oil. We can all see them. Fortunately, there has never been a spill.
Elsewhere around the world, however, there have been about 10,000 spills over the past 40 years. We know that this can happen and we know the risks. Every industry faces some sort of risk. It is crucial that we have a bill that considers this risk. We do not have one here. Companies are just starting to assume some liability, but not nearly enough.
In committee, I would have liked to see the Conservatives remember what they themselves had promised. They promised liability to the tune of $1 billion. That definitely would have been better. Unfortunately, this is nowhere near that.
Where I come from, there are several potential oil deposits in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but the most important is the Old Harry site, located between the Magdalen Islands and Newfoundland. It is so much on the border that we are not even sure exactly where it is.
If development begins at that site, there are fears that we are not properly equipped to clean up a spill. There are doubts about whether the company that has the permit today would have the financial ability to pay compensation in the event of a major spill. This bill would not provide enough for a proper cleanup following a catastrophe like the one in the Gulf of Mexico. It definitely needs to go further. Is it enough for today? Unfortunately, I have to support the bill, because it is a first step, but it does not provide nearly enough to respond to the real needs of our coastal communities.
Coastal communities will assume the risk so that the oil companies can benefit. That is not fair. We live in a society that should be fair and balanced. The Conservatives' bill appears to be an attempt to relieve the big companies of their liability and make society take on the risk. I do not understand. On the one hand they are socialists and on the other they are capitalists. Unfortunately they have got things the wrong way around.
They should have started by asking themselves what could be done to protect our coastal communities, so that they can grow and the wealth can be shared across Canada. That is not what we see in the bill, which only has to do with compensation in the case of a spill. The bill tacitly states that there will be a spill and attempts to safeguard against the financial impact a spill would have. However, no matter how much money you throw at a disaster, the real challenge is surviving it.
In Canada, there is a $400-million fund in case of a spill, but there have been no contributions to it since 1976. I have to wonder whether the government is serious about holding companies accountable for their own actions. It does not seem to be. The bill is quite simply not enough, but once again, it is a step forward. Without this bill, liability is $35 million. That is nowhere near enough. Liability of $230 million is a little more reassuring, but coastal communities are worth more than that.
The tourism and fishing industries deserve the House's attention. Unfortunately, the comments from members of the Conservative Party seem to ignore the fact that there are human beings and sustainable industries in the regions.
On the west coast, which I have not spoken much about, there is tremendous interest in this bill. For example, Burrard Inlet in Vancouver is the second most dangerous navigation point in that region. A ship navigating through the inlet at its own risk is thus putting the coastal community of greater Vancouver and the west coast at risk.
We definitely want all regions of Canada to be able to benefit from the oil industry. That is why the risk must be shared among all concerned. Companies should take on their fair share. I do not think that this bill does enough. I hope that the government will come up with some new proposals to improve the situation.
I doubt that that will happen before the election in 2015. That is why I believe that the NDP is the only party that can stand up for coastal communities. I look forward to when we form the government.