Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate because, when we deal with the marine sector, the MIL Davie workers, in my riding of Lévis, immediately come to mind. My goal is to see if this bill includes measures that will be beneficial for these workers.
Why do I think in these terms? Because Bill C-44 is pompously called the Canada Marine Act. However, there is nothing in it about marine construction or the merchant navy. Yet, I saw Liberals, including the Prime Minister, come to meet MIL Davie workers and tell them that a summit would be held and a policy would be developed.
In the end, this bill deals primarily with ports. What is it all about? The member for Blainville-Deux-Montagnes, who spoke before me, stated the Bloc's position. In principle, we cannot oppose this bill, because it theoretically seeks to take politics out of port authorities. However, we are not so sure that this will actually be the case.
For example, in most cases, the federal government will continue to appoint the directors of a port authority. As mentioned in clause 12(1), there will be an official representing the federal government, but, with the exception of those individuals appointed by the municipalities and the provinces, the others, including those representing the users, will be appointed by the federal government.
I happen to come from the region of Lévis, across from Quebec City, which has a major port.
Over the years, I watched what was going on in the port of Quebec, because there are port facilities on both sides of the river. What happened is that, over the ten previous years, the port of Quebec had accumulated profits of $36 million. This prompted the federal Conservative government, and then the Liberals, to grab $33 million out of the $36 million.
Under the circumstances, you will understand why the port authorities had no real incentive to make profits. The member for Blainville-Deux-Montagnes talked about siphoning off profits and he is absolutely right. This best describes what took place. The federal government was siphoning off the profits and, then it says, in the bill, that the previous policy has failed. This is indeed the case, because, wherever it was cost-effective, the federal government moved in and took amounts for its own administration.
The Bloc Quebecois has certain concerns, one being that, although the port of Quebec City was cost-effective, smaller ports, and there are many of them, are not in the same situation. We are still worried about them. Often, ports are in pitiful shape. The federal government has neglected the maintenance of several small ports and now it would like to turn these small ports over to local entrepreneurs, rely on the spirit of economic development and initiative that local people may have.
It is not much of a gift in some cases, unless the necessary money is invested. We will see, during the consultation, because there will be hearings at which the various stakeholders throughout Canada who are interested in the matter may express their views.
The members of the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, will be present at each of these hearings to listen to people's concerns.
At first sight, $125 million to refurbish all the ports concerned seems insufficient to us. Sometimes, what is needed is an analogy with what is happening in other areas. This morning, I read in the newspaper about a group of five small regional airports in Quebec that have decided to make representations to the federal government. The representatives say that they would be interested in taking over management of these airports, but that they are in unsatisfactory shape at the moment. For a year, or 18 months now, I believe, we have been seeing, if we look at specific cases, that people are realizing that if an adjustment is not made, it is not as interesting for local authorities to take over the administration of what the federal government leaves behind.
I will give another small example. I personally wonder. Take the Toronto airport, You will tell me it is not the same thing, but it still has a bearing on the ports. The Conservative government had decided to privatize Pearson, but the Liberal government wanted to prevent privatization. Why? Because there was more in it for them that way. It makes me wonder. When something brings in money, the government wants to hang on to it to fill its own coffers, but when it is a losing proposition, and when the government itself has contributed to the deterioration of the infrastructures, it wants to hand it over to the local authorities.
At first sight, this strikes me as a real contradiction. So during these hearings on the ports, people will have a chance to express their concerns. I think that these hearings will provide an opportunity for them to do so.
The only thing I see is that the time limit seems very short. In the human resources development committee I have seen that people have not had enough time to prepare a brief because of the time limits. The democratic process, though generally very good, is not always followed as it should be, because people have not been given the necessary time to prepare. At any rate, we shall see what happens.
This the reason for the Bloc Quebecois' serious reservations, despite our support of the principle.
There is also the matter of pilotage. I have had a lot of representations from people about the St. Lawrence, where I understand it will be implemented in 1998. The St. Lawrence pilots have expressed their concerns to me. They are not sure it is a good thing to move the St. Lawrence pilot administration to Ottawa. In this instance, centralization does not seem attractive at first glance.
Finally, as for privatization and increased commercialization of the St. Lawrence Seaway, I would be in agreement with that. Yet I would point out that, as the member for Lévis, I would certainly like to see this new legislation take into consideration the fact that
vessels plying the St. Lawrence Seaway in future will have to be built with a narrower seaway in mind. We are well aware that it is not all that easy to navigate through all kinds of submerged barriers. As well, environmental protection regulations would be necessary.
If all of this were done, the situation of the workers at MIL Davie, whom I represent here, would also be improved.