Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-26, but I do so with much less enthusiasm than the hon. member who just spoke.
First, we must publicly condemn the fees that will cause all kinds of problems in the various departments since, under this legislation, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will have authority to get involved in matters relating to the environment.
The hon. member for Gaspé does an excellent job as the official opposition critic on issues that relate to fisheries and oceans. He had an opportunity to meet hundreds of witnesses who expressed their disagreement with the bill that the minister wants the House to pass.
Following the representations made by the hon. member for Gaspé, the Bloc Quebecois proposed amendments in the House that would have had the effect of protecting the resource, the environment and the industry, while making all fishing boats safer.
These amendments were proposed by the Bloc at second reading, but the minister did not seem to agree with them. He did not deem appropriate to include them so as to improve Bill C-26 which, in fact, violates certain prerogatives of the provinces.
Yet, the minister must, in Bill C-26, respect these provincial prerogatives. Obviously, a federal act affecting the St. Lawrence Seaway, such as Bill C-26, does not concern Quebec only, but all the provinces. Today, these issues are being raised mostly by the Bloc Quebecois. The Reform Party also proposed amendments, but we must make the federal government aware of the problems that it will create for every provincial environment department.
It is also important that the federal government seek the approval of its provincial counterparts, since this legislation will create management problems for them. The bill will cause more overlap and duplication, which is already a $6 billion problem for Quebec and Ottawa alone.
In this case, the overlap will not necessarily occur between the federal and provincial governments, but between departments. Indeed, if we read Bill C-26, we can see that it gives powers to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans regarding the environmental sector. I will get back to this later on.
The Liberals are once again resorting to one of their good old techniques. They claim to be consulting, they pat people on the back, but in the end they will do as they please. Why waste MPs' time, whether they are Liberals, Reformers or Bloc members? We all have better things to do. Our work in committee is an important task.
When the House refers a bill to the fisheries and oceans committee, it means the committee will conduct a clause by clause review. However, this is a futile exercise, since the minister does as he pleases. The minister decides what he wants to do; if the dice have already been cast, they should tell us. There is no use sending a bill to a committee for study and calling witnesses from across Canada, from Quebec City to Halifax and from Montreal to Vancouver, to come here and tell us they do not agree with the legislation, if unfortunately the minister does not take into account submissions to the committee.
In any case, we, in the Bloc Quebecois, have agreed to keep on condemning the mess the minister is about to make in the shipping industry as well as in the pleasure boating industry. If the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans wants to pass, with Bill C-26, legislation to ensure the safety of ships, the Bloc has no quarrel with it. And if the
idea is to make the users of marine infrastructures pay for the cost of the coast guard in order to ensure people's safety, the Bloc has no quarrel with that, either.
However, the fault we find with the legislation is that it goes too far in involving the coast guard in controlliing pleasure craft. I find it hard to imagine the coast guard patrolling the hundreds and thousands of lakes on the north shore used exclusively for hunting and fishing. It is hard to imagine the coast guard regulating and making sure that someone driving a boat with a 2 hp or 4 hp motor is qualified to drive that boat, to put gas in the motor or change the spark plugs. Or course, it will have to make sure the boat is equipped with life buoys.
People in our area know all these things and we do not want the coast guard involved in matters of hunting and fishing and tourism, which could hurt our tourism industry. I can hardly imagine coast guard vessels sailing up and down our rivers. It will be very expensive, because its vessels will run aground a few times. We do not have too many rivers that are navigable, except for fishing boats.
Bill C-26 also claims titles of sovereignty. I do not quite get the idea. If they come up with such a bill, are we to understand that the federalists have caught the sovereignty fever?
There are also many grey areas in this bill. A few things are not quite clear, and the government should pay attention to these grey areas. That was done in committee and in different forums.
I wonder if I am not just wasting my time today, trying to explain to Liberal members how important it is for the government to get the co-operation of the provinces concerning this bill and the use of exclusive provincial jurisdiction over the environment. I have already said that, but it bears repeating.
The provinces, the environment departments and the provincial officials should not be considered mere associates. They should be involved and they should be given the opportunity to voice their views and say what they think of Bill C-26, or it will become a nuisance if they are not consulted.
The provinces should be involved in discussions. They should be more than mere associates, as I said. They should help draft this bill. Then it would be easier for the federal government to see to the implementation of this legislation within each of the provinces.
In one of its amendments, the Bloc Quebecois asks that the rights and jurisdiction of the provinces be respected for the management of the environment and the marine infrastructure on the north shore. The Bloc Quebecois wants to protect the right of the provinces over any area of the sea in which a law of a province applies and over the living resources of that area. The Bloc also wants to ensure that the provinces take part in the development and implementation of the oceans management strategy.
Bill C-26 also deals with the environment and I will have the opportunity later on to examine the environmental system in more detail. The Bloc Quebecois also tried to force the minister to consult the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. For greater openness, the government should have agreed to have its decisions sanctioned by elected representatives of all political parties. It is important to consult every political party. Members of Parliament have been elected by the people to represent all of the ridings throughout Canada. I think there are 75 ridings in the province of Quebec, which means 75 members of Parliament from Quebec, who should all have their say about this.
The Bloc members are the only ones to criticize this bill, except for the Conservative member for Sherbrooke and the independent member for Beauce. Where are the other members?
What are the Liberal members doing in this House? They have been gagged and their actions have been restricted. I am sure that, back home, in Charlevoix, the people are criticizing this bill and that the residents on the north shore or in Charlevoix are not the only ones to do so. The Bloc Quebecois members are not the only ones to be worried about this piece of legislation. I would like the Liberal members who were elected to represent their constituents to reject this proposal coming from their colleague, the minister.
One of the purposes of Bill C-26 is to encourage the federal ministers to talk to each other. Do we need a bill to encourage the Liberal members to talk to each other as well? As far as I know, there still is cabinet, which meets quite regularly. It is in the interest of ministers to see to it that the machinery of government is working properly.
I want to make a point here. Since the events back in June, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans proceeded with the first step of the rate setting process for navigational aids. Twenty million dollars were taken out of the taxpayers' pockets. This is a hidden tax.
Marine companies received bills during the summer even though the impact study on the new initiatives will be ready only in November. If ridicule kills, many will die. It is fortunate that ridicule never killed anyone because it is ridiculous to implement such regulations and bill people who kindly helped and contributed in spite of the fact that there is an injunction order against this rate setting process.
Three major companies asked for an injunction. Even though the bill has not yet been passed and has been challenged, and even though an injunction was made, the Minister of Fisheries and
Oceans sent bills for $20 million to companies currently using the services of the coast guard.
But there is more to come. In the next few days, the government wants to get $40 million more. This is a hidden tax. The government says in its red book that it will not raise taxes while increasing services, but we have found out what is going on. The Liberal government is resorting to a hidden tax to raise taxes. This is just another way of taxing small taxpayers, in particular users of pleasure craft or inland vessels.
Here is an example. The Société des traversiers du Québec, that operates a ferry on the St. Lawrence between Matane and Baie-Comeau or Matane and Godbout, will be hit by a $25,000 increase in only one year. And I am saying a $25,000 increase because the Société des traversiers du Québec will have to pass on the costs of this new rate structure to users.
I will say it again. This rate increase for crossing the river by ferry between Matane and Baie-Comeau and Matane and Godbout, which applies to products-and we know that many food products and materials are shipped across the river-will mean a higher cost of living in exchange as a result of the impact of this bill.
What I find most laughable is the fees charged for pleasure craft. The Bloc had brought forward amendments calling for the removal of all references to navigation and pleasure craft. It is unacceptable that the minister should grab the power to act on rivers and lakes that, for the most part, are managed by the Government of Quebec.
In Quebec, rivers and lakes are managed by the province's Department of Environment, and that includes the fauna and flora as well as the water. Furthermore, the Government of Quebec manages the land surrounding lakes as regards to the building of hunting camps or cottages.
When the federal government says it will manage pleasure craft, I wonder if it will go as far as taxing outdoor recreational equipment like surfboards, pedalos and water skiing equipment. And it may not have thought of it, but if it is a few cents short with its hidden tax, it could tax life buoys. But since the goal is to increase security, I suppose the minister has thought of it. Just about the only piece of equipment that left out is the lifebuoy.
Bill C-26 gives the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans powers that already belong to the Minister of the Environment. The bill seems to be creating a sectoral department of the environment: the department of the coastal environment. If that was done in all sectors, we would have a department of transport environment, a department of industry environment, etc. All departments would end up with environmental protection and conservation powers. If that is the direction the government wants to go, it should abolish the Department of the Environment.
I have been sitting on the environment committee for one year as parliamentary assistant to the hon. member for Laurentides. Recently, the minister told us that there was no environmental issue. When we ask a question of a minister, we want to talk to a minister who has a plan, an agenda, we want to talk to a minister who knows where he is going. When the minister moves away from his plan or agenda, we ask him questions, we try to make him stick to that agenda.
The present Minister of the Environment as well as the former one, who is now Deputy Prime Minister, have any plan. It seems to me that the Department of the Environment still exists only because it has always existed, but there is no co-ordination whatsoever. I understand that the federal government wants to give the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and to the Department of Transport their share, but I hope that one day it will abolish the Department of the Environment if nobody here in Ottawa is in charge of environmental protection.
I would say that the Minister of the Environment is not in a very comfortable position. To use a maritime analogy, I would say that in the environment sector, we are adrift in a dinghy without a captain.
It is important to bring this government back to its senses. The minister has to be responsible for environment and must have backbone and be able to say to his Cabinet colleagues: "Just a minute. As Minister of Environment, I am responsible for everything that concerns the environment, be it at Fisheries and Oceans or Transport Canada. We have a department called Environment Canada and we intend to administer all areas relating to environment".
For the last six months or so the definition of sustainable development has been under study. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is bypassing once more the Department of Environment. I believe that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has enough in his own backyard to keep himself busy. He should let Environment Canada administer the environment.
Those sections empower the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to develop and implement a national strategy for the management of estuarine, coastal and marine ecosystems. This strategy will require the implementation of plans for the management of activities, the establishment of management or advisory bodies, the development of numerous programs, the establishment of environmental standards, the gathering and analysis of scientific data on the ecosystems involved. What a waste!
This bill provides for the establishment of a program, the implementation of a plan, the development and establishment of bodies but all those things already exist in the environment sector.
There will be duplication and overlap between federal and provincial governments, and, as I was saying, they are creating more and more problems here with yet another example of duplication and overlap between departments.
In no case does the bill require the department to agree with other federal departments or with the provinces in this process. The minister is not required to agree with his ministerial colleagues or with the provinces. He has a free hand. He can do as he pleases. It is one hell of a situation. It makes no sense. Liberal members are going to have to tone down their enthusiasm and bring their minister, who is about to do something that will probably cost a lot of money, back into line. If he is allowed to go his own way, it will be a major disaster.
That the minister is not required to work in co-operation with environment officials in particular and with other departments in general is inconsistent and unacceptable. At a time when positions are being cut and the government is supposed to be cutting its spending, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is creating duplication within the federal government. That was what I was explaining.
Of course, we want to bring down the deficit and that is why the Liberals were elected, but they should not bring it down at the expense of the most disadvantaged, or by creating a disguised tax, or by going after the very tools workers need by imposing additional fees on their boats. After they are registered, it is almost certain that there will be no way to keep track, and if so, how much will it cost?
In theory, the Department of the Environment will be responsible for administering this additional jurisdiction, with the co-operation of each of the departments concerned. As I was saying, the minister would do well to consult each of the departments.
There is now considerable overlap and duplication in federal and provincial environment regulations. Private enterprise is therefore very often forced to spend time, money and energy obtaining information on the numerous government programs; providing the two levels of government with the required information and data; sitting on the many advisory committees and sub-committees responsible for regulating industry; preparing for inspections conducted by the federal and provincial governments; and, finally, meeting the requirements of both levels of government.
In this regard, the toxic waste regulations are a convincing example. At this time, eight federal regulations overlap similar regulations that exist in Quebec. Let us take, for example, the storage of PCB material regulations and the pulp and paper effluent regulations. Quebec sovereignty would have resolved all this by eliminating overlap and duplication.
I am certain that each of the provinces, and certainly Quebec, has regulations concerning bodies of water, as do municipalities and
RCMs. There are provincial and municipal committees on the environment. Each of the municipalities and RCMs has green plans.
When the minister says he will impose fees on pleasure craft, it gets to where I wonder whether the minister will not start tattooing registration numbers on the back or leg of anyone swimming across Lac Saint-Jean next year.
I will be one of the members of the Bloc Quebecois voting against Bill C-26. I could have said a lot more, for it is truly a scandalous bill.