Mr. Speaker, it is good to be addressing this, the first bill I have had the pleasure of addressing in my new role as the critic for natural resources. I would like to make a few general comments about the department before I detail our support for the bill and the reasons behind it.
I would like first of all to tell the Minister of Natural Resources that in my travels around the country this summer, checking into the background of the department, how her program is being received both in industry and among the provincial natural resource people, in many ways she seems to be moving in the right direction. She has been working hard. I think she is sincere in downsizing her department and getting out of areas that are traditionally and constitutionally in provincial jurisdiction. As she continues to do that, she will have my support certainly in getting the federal government out of those areas and allowing the provincial governments to carry out their mandate.
The resource industry is tremendously important to Canada. The energy, mines and forest sectors account for something like 13 per cent of Canada's GNP and a full 39 per cent of its exports, so the minister has an important resource to look after. If we were to add up the mining, forestry and gas and oil sectors alone, we have direct employment of almost two million people in Canada, again emphasizing the importance of that department.
It is interesting that under the new system we heard about the other day, the new system of rating countries in the world, Canada came out as the second wealthiest country in the world, based largely on its natural resources. Again, it is very important, obviously, that we must be good stewards of our wealth, make sure that our natural resources are properly managed, and that we take advantage in a sustainable way of ensuring that prosperity is made available to Canadians.
With that background, it is a privilege to be the critic in this very important area. I remind the minister that she will have my support as long as she continues to move.
It is also interesting that the areas in which the government has moved in natural resources have stuck very closely to the demands we made during the last campaign. For example, we warned against the idea that if we are not careful we could have a carbon tax in the country. The carbon tax did not come to fruition in the last budget, and I am not sure why. This was positive for the industry.
The minister has also taken steps to sell off the government's share of Petro-Canada, which is something we have been calling for, for some years. That is certainly long overdue. I have registered my concerns about the process by which the brokerage firms were chosen, but other than that we are pleased to see that Petro-Canada is being privatized. It is unfortunate that the cost to the Canadian taxpayer will probably be something in the neighbourhood of $20 billion, so the $2 billion that will be raised by the sale will be a small consolation to the Canadian taxpayers who are on the hook for about $1,480 each. Be that as it may, it certainly was a positive move.
Another encouraging move the minister has made was the guarantee that the government is out of the megaproject business. Again, that is something the Reform Party has been advocating for years. We will be out of the Hibernia project after this year, which is another positive step. It is interesting that all the things I would like to congratulate the minister on were certainly things we advocated before and during the last election campaign.
I am here this morning to speak to Bill C-71, an act to amend the Explosives Act, which will allow Canada to formally participate in the international convention on the marking of plastic explosives for the purpose of detection.
The purpose of the convention is to make sure that as many plastic explosives as possible are detected by the legal authorities, particularly at airports, in an effort to stop terrorism. This is really an anti-terrorism bill. I and my colleagues agree with the intention behind it.
After the Air India tragedy and the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1989 the United Nations passed two separate resolutions. One was passed by the Security Council and the other by the General Assembly. The resolutions urged the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is another UN body, to intensify its work on an international regime for the marking of plastic explosives for the purpose of detection. Out of the resolutions was born the convention I have already mentioned. It was put forward in Montreal in 1991 and signed by 100 nations. Although Canada signed at that time, it did not have the legal authority to ratify it. The bill we are talking about today will give Canada the authority and the ability to formally ratify that convention.
For the last four years research has been ongoing to consult with the industry and to develop an appropriate chemical marker, which has now been developed at laboratories in New Jersey. The time has come to ratify the convention.
Unfortunately the convention will not take effect until 35 nations become signatories. At least five of those signatories must be producers of plastic explosives. I understand that five producer countries have now signed, among them Slovakia, Switzerland, Norway, the Czech Republic, and Spain. Canada will be the sixth producer country to sign. That still means that only 13 countries, including Canada, will have legally ratified the convention, which is a long way from the 35 needed to actually put it in place.
Doubts have been raised as to the effectiveness of the convention when it is finally put in place. I fear that it may simply increase the black market for unmarked plastic explosives which will still be in circulation. It may also strengthen the network of terrorist groups that will continue to communicate with each other, more regularly perhaps, to get a supply of unidentifiable plastic explosives.
However I agree that the ordinary terrorist, if I can call such a thing ordinary, without international connections will be harder pressed to obtain material that will escape detection devices. Therefore the convention is a positive thing. I am recommending to my colleagues that the vote in favour of it.
Interestingly enough, although the United States has signed the convention, it has not yet introduced legislation to ratify that convention. We talked with the explosives industry organization in Washington called the Institute of Makers of Explosives. Its representatives say they endorse the convention. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is a leading agency in America, may introduce legislation soon to ratify it. To date nothing has come about to make sure this happens.
We have not had an instance for a long time like the Lockerbie incident or the Air India explosion. The urgency has somehow died down and the issue has probably taken a lower political priority, at least in the United States. I hope that it will not take another tragedy to bring this issue to the world stage once again.
The convention is not in force right now and therefore is not really relevant. Until the United States recognizes it, the remainder of the significant players in this game will not join in ratifying the convention.
The amendment to our act that we are discussing this morning will continue to be irrelevant until we do something on a political level to bring the United States into the game. Until that happens, nothing will get done and airline passengers all over the world will not receive the benefits that marking plastic explosives will bring.
Today I am calling on the Minister of Natural Resources to address this on a political level, to call her American counterpart and bring him up to speed on this issue and to urge the United States to move on this issue and formally approve the convention so we can keep terrorism in its hole where it belongs.
The minister has shown leadership. I have mentioned some of the positive things she has done in her portfolio. I would ask and encourage her to put her words into action now on the political front internationally and show some leadership with our American friends in urging them to sign this convention as quickly as possible.
I have some relevant comments to make regarding other issues about the Explosives Act. Allow me first to give our listeners some background on explosives in Canada and then I will get to the amendment.
First let me talk a little bit about the general explosives regime in Canada. There are about 100 licensed producers of other explosives but only one manufacturer of plastic explosives in the country. This producer is located in Quebec and only produces plastic explosives on an as needed basis, mostly for military demolition charges. We are not talking about a major market for plastic explosives or, for that matter, a major problem with them.
Our 100 producers of conventional explosives are served by a 30-employee branch within the Department of Natural Resources Canada and there are five regional offices including one on West Hasting Street in Vancouver.
I have some personal experience with the explosives branch in my former life as a logging contractor and a road builder. Certainly in British Columbia one does not do a lot of that without dealing extensively with explosives. I have in the past received my blaster's certificate, taken the exams and so on in order to deal with explosives. However, we have not had an extensive problem with abusive explosives in Canada. Historically that has been a blessing and I hope that will continue.
However, there is an ongoing problem that seems to be happening in one region of the country. It is what happened when the Hell's Angels decided to take things into their own hands in Montreal. These ongoing biker wars in Montreal with cars, kids, restaurants, bystanders and even the odd member of the biker gang have been a concern to Canadians and are a growing concern about the use of explosives in terrorist activities. Police warn that this could be just the beginning.
The Hell's Angels are the biggest, wealthiest motorcycle gang in the world. It is working hard to tighten its grip on drug trafficking, prostitution and gun running right across Canada. It seems to have chosen explosives as the anonymous method of choice for killing rivals.
As the police begin to scrutinize these groups more and more closely, the groups may be driven to use more covert methods. There is always a possibility that plastic explosives that currently are not being used for these purposes will be used in their terrorist acts and innocent people may continue to be killed.
I have been assured that plastic explosives have not been used to date in any of the Montreal explosions, but only explosives that are more easily obtainable from regular construction, mining and road construction.
Who knows when some biker gang could put plastic explosives on some kind of public transport and kill many more innocent people? Plastic explosive that is marked with a chemical identifier would ensure that this would become much more difficult and may even deter criminals from using it. That is why Bill C-71 is a positive move. Although it may have a very negligible impact on that market, at least it is a positive step and deserves to be supported.
I also have some concerns with conventional explosives. The last example is in Montreal, which is not a worker health and safety problem that the Federal Explosives Act is meant to address. It is a security problem, with these same biker gangs that seem to strut their stuff by killing innocent 11-year old kids and so on.
What about the explosives used in these biker bombings? It is interesting that Quebec has the strongest provincial security regime regarding explosives in the entire country, something which it put in place following the FLQ crisis years ago. Yet it cannot seem to find out where these people are getting their explosives.
I want the House to know that not every piece of explosive was detonated in those killings. In one bombing police came upon several sticks that did not explode. Why could these explosives not be traced back to the original vendor so we could find out who sold these explosives to whom and try to catch these thieves and black marketeers? Someone must be currently licensed to store or use explosives and is selling it via the black market to these gangs. However we just cannot trace them. Although the boxes are marked at the factory, the individual sticks or cartridges of explosives inside the boxes are not. To mark each one individually would be an incredible amount of work and probably far too costly to contemplate.
However a solution to this has been suggested by the American Institute of Makers of Explosives, the industry representative of explosive manufacturers in the states. Its solution could help Canada's growing security problem with explosives. It is not a solution that would require legislative change but only a change to the regulations attached to the act.
The Institute of Makers of Explosives is calling for a study on a proposal it has made of including tiny plastic and metal chips in the explosive material itself which is coded by colour to identify the manufacturer. After an explosion investigators would look for the chips in the debris and be able to trace the explosives in that way.
I have a description paper on the study that has been proposed. The institute suggests studying this to see whether it is either economically possible or even a positive move. At least the study should include whether those types of identifiable tags of plastic and metal parts should be used.
The institute promotes the objective study of placing such tags into the explosives and whether it would be an effective law enforcement tool. It wants to study whether it would be a negative impact on the environment because of the presence of these chips. It wonders how efficient it is and whether a significant number of bombings would be traceable. Although there were 2,300 bombings in the United States last year, only 36 involved commercially available high explosives. They also want to know about the cost.
The institute is willing to take part and participate in a study on all those things. It would investigate whether this could help to deter things like the Montreal bombings. It would certainly make the explosive traceable to where they are manufactured and sold.
This study is worthy of support. It may be a suitable way to trace explosives. I hope that the Canadian government will participate in the IME study to see if it could have application here.
I believe that knowing explosives were traceable might deter people from being dishonest and selling them on the black market. If they do that, they should know they are contributing to murder and violence. At the current time they are getting away scot free because the explosives are untraceable.
I mentioned earlier my support for this amendment. However I need to mention, in light of the couple of negative comments I have about this bill, the timing of it and so on had to do with what is really minor housekeeping business being brought to the House. Admittedly, as I mentioned, we will support it.
There are a whole slew of very serious issues, some of them involving biker gangs, some of them involving other criminal justice issues that could be brought to the House and should be dealt with as quickly as we are prepared to deal with this one.
We have a multitude of problems that people were telling me about in my travels this summer, especially in the criminal justice area that are far more serious than this anti-terrorism bill. It could save more lives if the government would listen to the Canadian people and put the rights of the law-abiding citizen ahead of the rights of the criminal.
I wish today after we deal with this we would be spending time next on a crucial and critical bill dealing with amendments, for example, to the Young Offenders Act or on critical bills like enabling legislation that would allow for a national binding referendum on capital punishment. Those are measures of some substance that people would say are moving Canada toward a safer system or toward a system that I can have faith in.
This anti-terrorism bill we are dealing with today is not going to affect most people even a little. There are many issues that we could be and should be dealing with quickly that could reinforce people's faith in the justice system. Certainly I do not see them on the legislative Order Paper and that is one of the things that is unfortunate.
Allow me to sum up. I call on the minister today to contact our American counterpart and urge the United States to sign the convention, thus making our legislative amendment more relevant in the world.
I also urge her to take part in the study being proposed by the Institute of the Makers of Explosives in the United States which would look at the idea of placing identifiable chips in explosives so that we could trace them when we are confronted with criminal misuse of explosives, a problem that seems to be increasing.
For a long time we have had the luxury of concentrating on worker health and safety through the Explosives Act. These are important issues and it has been most of my experience with the Explosives Act in my own personal background.
I believe the day is approaching when the federal government will have to turn its attention toward enhancing the security of all Canadians through more accurately identifying the source of explosive charges. We should at least have in our possession the options identified and priorized in case we need to move toward traceability of explosives in a more extensive way.
I want to reiterate my support for Bill C-71. I do not believe it is going to set the world on its head, but the intention behind it is good and I support it. I do not see why we should take any more of the valuable time of the House to deal with this matter.
There may even be unanimous consent to move directly to a committee of the whole and dispense with this bill in short order so that we can get on with dealing with some of the more critical issues that I mentioned earlier. If the government wishes to make such a motion, I will stand in support of moving to committee of the whole.