Mr. Speaker, before speaking on Bill C-26, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Gaspé on the excellent job he is doing on this issue.
I am pleased to rise in this House to speak on Bill C-26, an act respecting the oceans of Canada. The bill is based essentially on three parts: first, the recognition of Canada's jurisdiction over its ocean areas; second, a legislative framework for a national oceans management strategy; and third, the granting of powers to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, including the power to fix fees, power over marine sciences and, of course, power over the coast guard.
Bill C-26 is a perfect example of how little respect the federal government has for the provinces. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is set to unilaterally impose a fee structure on the marine industry for the services provided by the coast guard, particularly navigational aids and icebreaking.
Not only does it impose a fee structure that is far from equitable, but Bill C-26 also encroaches upon provincial jurisdiction, which it totally ignores, granting the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans the power to act without first obtaining the consent of the provincial governments concerned.
The minister uses Bill C-26 as an excuse to legislate in areas that currently fall under provincial jurisdiction or in a grey area. It is clear that the minister is taking this opportunity to settle the situation in his favour by taking over areas where he would like to act alone. The most blatant evidence of this is the fact that the provinces were barely considered in the process.
The tactic is simple: the provinces are led to believe that consultations are being carried out in good faith, but the government then acts according to plan, without making any changes.
We now see the result. While the bill is not yet in force, the Canadian coast guard has already started charging the shipping industry for its services. It should be the other way around. The mess the minister will be plunging the shipping industry and the pleasure craft industry into will come as a surprise to no one.
Just look at the provisions of Bill C-26 and you will understand the meaning of chaos, a real mess.
I will now look at part I of Bill C-26 entitled "Canada's maritime zones". This part refers to the rights the government wishes to legislate. Since the law of the sea is covered under an
international convention, jurisdiction over maritime zones is established accordingly.
This legislation is so much wishful thinking and fine principles. The problem is that the provincial jurisdiction over maritime zones is being totally ignored. Worse still, the government is using the preamble of Bill C-26 to claim sovereign rights over this jurisdiction. Bloc Quebecois members are not fooled by these tactics, and neither are the provinces.
Part II of Bill C-26 sets out the legislative framework for the establishment of a national oceans management strategy. As I said before, the government is trying to assume new powers by taking advantage of existing grey areas. The result is an inappropriate legislative framework and persisting doubts over federal responsibilities as far as oceans management is concerned.
This vague legislative framework is deliberate and suggests that the minister intends to interfere in areas which should come under provincial jurisdiction. As an example, Bill C-26 refers to provincial ministers as mere associates. It goes even further, and places interested persons and bodies on the same level.
The main element of this part of the legislation is without any doubt the environment to which it refers. Indeed, Bill C-26 gives the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans environmental powers which already belong to the Department of the Environment.
It is as though a sectoral environment department was being established within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, a coastal environment department. Why not abolish the existing environment department and transfer the responsibility for environment protection and conservation to all the departments? This would make it a total mess.
Seriously, we know that the tendency in the environment sector is to centralize powers in Ottawa. With Bill C-26, and supposedly because of the national interest, as defined in the Constitution, and the global nature of environmental problems, the fisheries and oceans minister will assume all the powers, including some which are not his relating to the environment.
The best example of this is the definition of "sustainable development", which is found in the bill instead of in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
The fisheries and oceans minister will also have the right to develop and to implement a national strategy for the management of estuarine, coastal and marine ecosystems. In order to achieve all this, officials will first have to set up activity management plans, establish management and consultation organizations, develop multiple programs and environmental standards, as well as collect and analyze scientific data on these ecosystems.
All this implies that the fisheries and oceans minister will turn his department into a perfect model of duplication and waste of public moneys, since it will get involved in all these activities which, incidentally, are already being conducted by Environment Canada or the provinces. Since the minister will be under no obligation to work in co-operation with officials from the environment department or any other department, let alone with the provinces, it should come as no surprise that the marine sector cannot understand what is going on. All this is unacceptable.
Part III of Bill C-26 gives the minister powers regarding fees, marine sciences and the coast guard. It is to be noted that, while the bill has not been passed yet, the minister has already implemented the first stage of the fee structure for navigation aids, which will bring in $20 million. Indeed, companies were billed during the summer, even though the impact study on such fees will only be completed in November. Anyway, we already know what the results will be: the fees will have a devastating impact on the job situation in the marine sector in Canada and in Quebec.
Also, the whole fee policy is unfair. The minister is using the user fee principle to justify the regional rates, which give him the opportunity, for instance, to help out his native province of Newfoundland by granting considerable reductions, which the regions of the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes will have to make up for.
We already know that these fees will greatly undermine the competitiveness of the ports in the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes areas. The minister also intends to implement charges for dredging ports and the St. Lawrence seaway as well as for ice breaking along waterways. These measures are putting the ports of Montreal, Trois-Rivières, Matane and Rimouski in jeopardy, and that is unacceptable.
Bill C-26 undermines the power of the provinces by granting the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans exclusive powers over the maritime areas, all in the so-called best interests of the country. The government will only succeed in creating a total administrative mess and costly duplication by setting up an unfair fee schedule and by granting the Department of Fisheries and Oceans powers in environmental matters, which are already dealt with by the Minister of Environment.
The proposed measures in Bill C-26 are a threat to the marine sector and this is unacceptable, since the current economic situation requires rational and stimulating action to help create and develop jobs.