Mr. Speaker, I rise for the purpose of introducing into this House a bill to provide for the security of marine transportation known as the Marine Transportation Security Act.
The introduction of this bill marks the first occasion on which the government is proposing to use the streamlined process agreed to by Parliament on February 7 of this year in order to expedite the consideration of bills while at the same time improving the parliamentary ability to scrutinize legislative proposals.
Let me take this opportunity to thank all members of this House and all parties for allowing this bill to be the first under the new parliamentary reform package.
The motion before us will send this bill directly to the Standing Committee on Transport before second reading. I trust members of all parties will support this proposal, as they have, and I am looking forward to the process as a good test of the new approach and the resolve of House members to make it work well.
I would now like to turn to the rationale for the proposals before this House today. The Marine Transportation Security Act is intended to address a long standing omission in federal regulatory powers and in so doing better equip the government and the marine transportation industry to respond to any threat to the security of people, goods, vessels, ports and facilities in the Canadian maritime marine environment.
The Minister of Transport has had the legal power to address security issues in civil aviation and rail transportation for some time. Conspicuous by its absence, however, is a similar power for the minister with respect to marine transportation in Canada.
We must not be seduced into thinking that Canada or Canadian marine transportation is immune from terrorist threats. As members of the House know, the evidence available with respect to an Air India disaster, while not conclusive, indicates that the most likely cause of the tragedy was a bomb aboard the aircraft. While we have not had any similar incidents in the marine field, the experiences of other countries such as Greece have not been so fortunate.
Apart from the tragic loss of life that occurred in two separate and totally unanticipated incidents, the effect on the Greek cruise shipping trade and tourism in general was to cause losses measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
As a result of these incidents, the International Maritime Organization, IMO, the United Nations agency that deals with maritime matters, passed a recommendation that cruise ships on international voyages carry out security screening of passengers, analogous to that at airports, together with a variety of other complementary measures.
Canada was a strong supporter of that recommendation but has lacked the legislative authority to require the considerable cruise ship trade in Canada to comply. Attempts to achieve broad compliance with these measures on a voluntary basis have also been unsuccessful. These same IMO recommendations called on governments to review their national legislation to determine its adequacy.
Having raised the issue of economic advantage, I would like at this point to turn briefly to the concerns that might arise with respect to how this initiative could affect our relationship with our trading partners and competitors, in particular the United States, with whom we have so much maritime exchange.
Members of the House should be aware that the U.S. government already possesses the legislative authority that this bill seeks for our government. Furthermore, the United States has signalled its intention to bring in a regulatory regime for cruise vessels and ports based on existing voluntary IMO standards.
The U.S. is not the only western nation which has decided to respond in a vigorous manner. Greece has had a security regime for cruise vessels and ports in place for a number of years. The United Kingdom has enacted broad based legislation and many western European nations are actively pursuing a variety of initiatives to improve the security of their maritime transportation systems.
The international standards are intended to be the basis for the major element of a Canadian regulatory regime. Even apart from the primary concern of protecting the travelling public, if we were to fail to provide for a level of security equivalent to that offered by the American industry, Canada could find itself in danger of losing traffic to American ports. That is big tourist business for Canada.
More than 80 per cent of passengers in Canadian cruise trade are U.S. citizens. The value of this trade, which is expected to grow by more than 11 per cent on the west coast alone, already exceeds $500 million each and every year. The government has good reason to believe therefore that this legislation will in its long term effects be a positive enhancement to trade rather than an inhibitor.
I am not suggesting that there is currently a threat against Canadian marine transportation. There is not, but this could change at any time. I am suggesting that it would be imprudent, even derelict, to fail to take basic, simple precautions on the grounds that we have no evidence of a direct threat today. If and when that threat does change, it is too late to start the long, deliberate process of developing legislation.
In the immediate past one only has to recall the bombing of New York's World Trade Centre and the mortar attacks on Heathrow airport to understand how the dynamics of terrorist action can shift without warning.
As I have pointed out, the ability to respond effectively to any possible acts of unlawful interference with marine transportation must start with the capability of the government to organize a response. It is thus the view of the government that the creation of a legal framework to provide for effective marine security is the initial priority in ensuring that Canada is well equipped to deal with security in the marine environment.
I would like to remind the House that this bill, the Marine Transportation Security Act, provides the government only with enabling authority to create an appropriate regulatory regime, together with a compliance monitoring and enforcement scheme backed by suitable sanctions.
As such the bill, if and when enacted into law, will of itself impose no obligations on industry. Those will await the subsequent regulatory regimes. The bill is designed to apply to vessels, ports and marine facilities in Canada and to Canadian registered vessels anywhere, as well as to marine installations and structures, primarily drilling rigs and platforms on the continental shelf.
As in the case of aviation, vessels and facilities under the authority of the Minister of National Defence are exempt from the legislation.
Within this structure the government will have the authority to implement the necessary features of a security regime, many of which will be familiar to members of the House from air travel.
These include the ability to screen passengers, their possessions and goods going aboard a ship, the ability to segregate passengers and goods which have been screened from those that have not, the capability to control entry to a ship, the authority to require identified staff to be trained with respect to security matters, and the ability to require contingency plans for such matters as the response to bomb threats to be developed and exercised.
It is not the intent, however, that these powers be applied to their fullest extent under normal conditions. The situation does not warrant such action and the industry, understandably, given the current threat conditions, would oppose such action. The premium will be put on bringing in a framework which responds to Canadian requirements as they currently exist but with the flexibility to enhance them in the future should the threat change.
These requirements are simply put and I anticipate that they will find strong support within the industry affected. They are three in number: first, making mandatory the existing international standards for passenger vessels and associated port facilities; second, ensuring that major cargo vessels and associated ports have in place basic security consistent with industry's best practices; and third, the implementation of a system of measures capable of being used by all regulated segments of the industry in the event of an increased threat situation.
My colleagues and I are well aware that these are difficult financial times for the maritime industry in this country. We are confident that, except for some particular segments of the cruise vessel industry that fall significantly short of the existing international standards, the above objectives can be realized with little or no additional financial burden on the industry.
The result will be a more secure marine transportation system that is appropriately protected from potential security incidents and with the ability to adjust to changing scenarios in an unstable global environment.
On the requirement for such legislation, industry has endorsed the principle that the Minister of Transport requires adequate legal authority to address legitimate security concerns.
That being said, it is recognized that industry remains concerned given the current absence of an identifiable threat in Canadian waters about the requirement for regulations at this time and about the financial and operational implications of any regulatory framework.
For this reason, any regulatory scheme which is developed must take into account three important factors. There must be full and active industry involvement in the development of these regulations to ensure that both government and industry are in agreement and that the resulting approach represents the least cost approach to achieving what is absolutely necessary.
Second, the requirements must be based to the extent practical on performance standards as opposed to detailed technical specifications to provide the maximum flexibility to industry in meeting them, thus keeping costs again at a minimum.
Third, requirements with respect to basic security must be predicated on the existing best practices of the industry, thereby ensuring that the degree of adjustment necessary to achieve compliance is again minimal.
With these three precepts as the basis for regulatory development I am confident that we can arrive at a framework that stands the test of security while not inhibiting competitiveness or operational efficiency.
In closing, I would like to summarize for members the proposals contained in Bill C-38, the Marine Transportation Security Act. The act is designed to provide enabling authority to the government, consistent with that already available for aviation and rail transportation, governing security in the marine transportation sector.
This enabling authority would be used to create a regulatory regime providing for the security of cruise ship industry commensurate with that of the international community at large, and the United States in particular, thus ensuring the continual economic viability of the Canadian market.
Regulatory requirements with respect to cargo vessels and ports would focus on codifying existing security practices and ensuring that planning is done to respond to possible changes in threat. In implementing this regime the Department of Transport will carry out detailed consultation with maritime interests in Canada on the need and the approach that should be taken hopefully during the summer.
I urge members to consider the additional security that this act will provide in Canadian marine transportation, security that is necessary for the protection of Canadians and those who travel on the Canadian system as well as for the long term economic advantage of our industry.
I ask members of all parties to consider this legislation carefully, both in the committee and in the House, with a view to offering any improvements they deem necessary to this important initiative and to support the final package which emerges from the parliamentary process.
Finally, I return to my point of departure, to ask the members to join with me in making this an historic occasion in employing the new procedures which the House laboured long and hard to produce and supporting the motion to refer this bill to the Standing Committee on Transport before second reading.
I look forward to working with all parties to ensure that this bill becomes reality some time in the fall.