Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to oppose passage, at third reading, of Bill C-26, an act respecting the oceans of Canada.
I oppose this bill aimed at, among other things, recognizing Canada's jurisdiction over its maritime zones for a number of reasons. Some of them were set forth in the speech I made in this House on June 11.
Bill C-26 seeks to establish a national oceans management strategy, while defining federal responsibilities in this regard. It is these very fundamental aspects of this bill that concern the Bloc Quebecois-major concerns which I fully share. This bill abuses several provincial prerogatives by giving the fisheries minister power to act without prior endorsement from provincial governments.
Canada is known to be one of the countries of the world which has the longest coast, on three oceans. Our oceans contain numerous resources, not only water resources, but also various kinds of fish and marine mammals, beluga whales, seals, and so on that live in them. Canada's waters also contain numerous as yet undeveloped resources, oil and natural gas, for instance.
Quebecers and Canadians are aware of the existence of these marine resources, and react quickly whenever they are threatened. They also know that water controls the Earth's climate and releases a lot of oxygen.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans also knows how concerned Quebecers and Canadians are about these natural resources. That is why he created ocean day on June 8, 1996. I remind the House that this special day was a result of initiatives taken at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. National ocean day is there to heighten public awareness of the influence of oceans on our daily lives.
Despite his desire to educate the public about the importance of Canadian waters, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has introduced a bill that does little to deal with what Quebecers and Canadians really want in this regard.
Bill C-26 being extremely centralizing, the provinces have virtually no role left with regard to the ocean policy. Yet we know that provinces are much more aware of what the people want than the federal government.
As for the partnership between the federal and provincial governments, the former Minister of Fisheries and Oceans had supported the idea, but I see in this bill that the possibility of partnership has been ruled out. As a matter of fact, clause 29 of Bill C-26 tends to view provincial governments as mere collaborators, on the same level as aboriginal organizations, coastal communities and other interested persons and bodies.
I believe that Bill C-26 will lead to endless discussions as well as long and painful struggles between both levels of government.
The bill contains other clauses showing the desire of this government to centralize powers. Cases in point are clauses 28 to 36 dealing with the development of a management strategy for estuaries, coastal waters and marine waters. Not only do these clauses infringe upon provincial jurisdiction, but they give the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans powers already belonging to the federal environment minister.
It should be noted that the environment is an area of jurisdiction not explicitly attributed to either level of government under the Constitution. Before 1985, the Quebec government played a significant role in environmental issues. The federal government only got involved in areas related to its own jurisdiction. However, after
1985, Ottawa started to be very active in environmental issues through its spending powers. This led to a lot of duplication and overlap.
Bill C-26 is a further step toward centralization, which the provinces, Quebec especially, find unacceptable. Overlap exists mainly in federal-provincial regulations regarding the environment. As a result, companies must often spend a lot of money, time and energy to learn about the many existing government programs and to abide by the stringent requirements of both governments. Bill C-26 only makes matters worse since the federal government, in spite of its financial problems, is creating new structures to protect a specific ecosystem.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans also wants to unilaterally impose, on the marine industry, fees for all coast guard services, including navigational aids and ice breaking, as stated in clauses 41 and 47 to 52 of the bill.
The Bloc Quebecois proposed several amendments to these clauses in order to make the fees more equitable and force the minister to consult the industry and the provinces before he imposes fees or raises the rates. This new federal tax threatens the competitiveness of the port of Montreal-as you know, I represent Montréal-Nord which is part of the greater Montreal area-of other harbours on the St. Lawrence and of all Quebec businesses that depend on marine transportation.
The Quebec minister of state responsible for the Montreal area, Serge Ménard, and the president of the Communauté urbaine de Montréal, Vera Danyluck, have condemned this improvised and dangerous tax. It must be pointed out that the federal government ordered the coast guard, the agency responsible for the safety of marine transportation in Canada, to charge ship owners $160 million before 1999, beginning with $20 million this year, in 1996.
However, the impact will be worse for Montreal and other Quebec harbours because the federal government wants to implement three different fee schedules, one for the St. Lawrence, one for the west coast and one for the maritimes.
For instance, Ottawa will collect a fee from a foreign vessel arriving in Montreal, while that vessel will not pay anything if it goes to American ports on the Great Lakes. It must be pointed out that half of the some 726,000 containers that are carried each year to Montreal go to and from the American Midwest and the state of New York and the New England states.
Costs at the port of Montreal will increase and this will benefit harbours on the eastern seaboard of the United States that are competing with Montreal. Unfortunately, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans did not wait for the results of an economic impact study before introducing this measure. Clearly, through this action, Ottawa wants to favour the other regions to the detriment of Quebec.
The first fees have just been collected for navigational aids: buoys, lighthouses, traffic control, but the hardest for Quebec will come in 1997, when ice breaking fees will be implemented. Port activity generates major economic spinoffs of $1.2 billion for Montreal, as well as 14,000 jobs in Montreal.
On April 3, I met officials of the port authority in Montreal with my Bloc Quebecois colleagues from the Montreal area. They told us that container traffic is at an unprecedented level and that the port authority has a net profit for the sixteenth year in a row. This net profit was at $9.3 million in 1995, compared to $8.7 million in 1994.
The Montreal Port Corporation is stepping up its efforts to stimulate activity and expand its facilities. However, the Canadian Coast Guard cost recovery project counteracts the Montreal Port Corporation's efforts to become more competitive. It also hurts industrial users such as the oil industry.
Shipping is vital to the economy of Montreal and Quebec as a whole. The port of Montreal alone handles 20 million tonnes of cargo per year. Since 60 per cent of the freight passing through the port of Montreal is shipped by rail to various destinations throughout the continent, the profitability of the rail system will also be affected by the proposed fee structure. This bill will aggravate the situation in the Montreal region, which faces enormous economic problems as well as an outrageously high unemployment rate.
When I spoke to Bill C-26 last June, I listed the many reasons why I was opposed to this bill as it was presented to us. Today, I reaffirm my opposition because the bill provides for too much federal interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction. As a member who is sensitive to the needs of the people who elected him, I am unable to endorse a bill that totally ignores their concerns.
In this, I agree with my Bloc colleagues, who show the same consideration for their constituents. That is why I supported all the motions put forward by the Bloc Quebecois, and especially by my colleague from Gaspé. For all these reasons, I oppose Bill C-26.