Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to commend my colleague from North Island-Powell River for putting forward today's opposition motion on behalf of the Reform Party.
We will use the time allocated to the official opposition to show how, at the eastern end, on the Quebec side, the federal government's malfeasance and attitudes have also impeded progress, especially in Quebec.
For the benefit of the people listening to us, I will read this motion:
That this House support British Columbia as Canada's gateway to the Asia Pacific and recognize British Columbia as a major economic power in the region, and as a consequence, this House condemn the federal government for impeding progress in Western Canada by its management of the affairs of the nation, exemplified by the government's mishandling of the west coast fishery, Coast Guard services, the closure of military bases at Aldergrove and Chilliwack, B.C., the elimination of federal Ports Canada policing in B.C., the movement of grain to Prince Rupert, B.C. and other issues detrimental to the state of the nation.
You will agree with me that, in several instances, if the word "Quebec" were substituted for the words "Western Canada" or "nation", one could come to practically the same conclusions as
the hon. member for North Island-Powell River. I will address the part of his motion dealing with the Coast Guard, which could lead to other federal issues that have hurt Quebec and its economy for some 30 years.
I am very happy to participate in this debate on the Coast Guard, among other things, as an associate member of the fisheries and oceans committee, as the member for Trois-Rivières, which is a port city, a maritime city, and also as the official opposition's critic on regional development.
The Coast Guard has launched a full-scale attack against what could be called Quebec's overall economy. It is leading a frontal attack against St. Lawrence Seaway, its ports and those who use them and it is also carrying out an assault that is more deceitful, hypocritical and irresponsible in economic terms against ordinary citizens, ordinary Quebec consumers unlucky enough-as we will see in a moment-to own a pedal-boat, a kayak or a rowboat and to use it on one of Quebec's lakes or little rivers in their free time.
We will start our review of these two issues by looking at the Coast Guard's plan to charge users of the St. Lawrence River and the St. Lawrence Seaway. A decision was made a few months ago, at the beginning of the year, to charge users of the St. Lawrence in three ways: first, for the use of navigational aids such as beacons, buoys and telecommunications, most of which are managed by the Canadian Coast Guard; second, as early as this fall, for ice removal, for the use of icebreakers and: third, for the dredging of the ports on the St. Lawrence and the channels leading from each port to the St. Lawrence.
The project was the subject of what is termed consultation at the Coast Guard. The IBI report, according to all those who appeared before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, involved bogus consultation; it is not even worth the paper it is written on, for all its irresponsibility and biased questions responses.
That was the position at Fisheries and Oceans and at the Coast Guard, but following strong representations made by the official opposition, the minister finally had to admit that the fisheries and oceans committee should be consulted and users invited to at least express their views publicly, which was done.
About fifty users from across Canada came to testify, 75 per cent of whom requested a moratorium, in part because, the IBI study did not include an impact assessment to determine how a decision to impose a tariff would affect the users. In many cases, the shipowners using the St. Lawrence River are foreign shipowners, and they will now be charged for the use of the river, which will seriously jeopardize the competitiveness of ports along the St. Lawrence.
There has been no impact study, although the industry concerned, the stakeholders were prepared to participate in a joint government-user study. Instead, the government took a unilateral, arbitrary approach, deciding to impose, as a first step, new tariffs for navigational aids.
Governments, and not the least significant ones, namely the governments of Ontario and Quebec, reacted very strongly against this. But as far as I know, while the Quebec Minister of Transport, Mr. Brassard, who is responsible for this issue, has repeatedly asked to meet the federal minister responsible. No meeting has taken place. This goes to show the arbitrary way this government goes about things and the true extent of its willingness to co-operate.
Another decision was made later on. Contrary to the decision made at the time when a uniform tariff was being considered, that is to say a single tariff applied throughout Canada, from coast to coast, the government gave in to lobby groups from across the country and decided to divided the country in three regions.
There is a specific objective: user fees. The Coast Guard has a mandate to come up with X millions of dollars as its contribution in the fight to bring down the Canadian government's deficit. Nobody has come right out and said so-it is the Coast Guard's share.
With all of Canada facing a real problem, they decided to carve up this vast, wonderful, united country into three large regions: the West; central Canada, meaning the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes; and the East, that is the Maritimes, with the Port of Halifax obviously being the focal point. They have carved Canada up into three large regions with three kinds of user fees.
There is one fee for the West, one for central Canada, and one for the East. As if by chance, the central region, including Quebec and Ontario, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes, is being asked to contribute the most. Forty-eight per cent of the revenues from these fees will come from the central region, 30 per cent from the East and 22 per cent from the West.
The concept of user fees being proposed, furthermore, is truly astonishing. Not only were there no real consultations, but it has been decided that people travelling on the St. Lawrence use the services of the Coast Guard.
In not one case has it ever been shown that any services are actually provided, but the Coast Guard has decided to charge fees anyway.
The result is that, for North Shore ports, such as Baie-Comeau, Sept-Îles and Port-Cartier, a single buoy, an aid to navigation, will cost users $5 million. This is a small example of what happens when the powers that be fail to consult the client where the concept of user fees is involved.
The overall result is that, without any impact study, it seems that, according to users, there is a serious danger, given the very fierce competition that exists, that the competitiveness of ports on the St. Lawrence, and even in the Great Lakes, but especially ports on the St. Lawrence, will be jeopardized by the additional costs resulting from these new rates, which will put St. Lawrence ports at a disadvantage compared to ports in eastern Canada, particularly Halifax, ports on the American eastern seaboard, and even ports on the Mississippi.
There is talk in certain sectors, and not the least important ones, and this view is supported up by SODES, the Société de développement économique du Saint-Laurent, that the existing fees could double with the introduction of this new scheme.
Do you know what SODES is? It is not some little backwater special interest group. It has 110 members. They come from practically everywhere in Canada, although mostly from Quebec, given the name. Its members include: the Association de l'industrie de l'aluminium du Québec-all the aluminum smelters in Quebec belong to SODES-the Association des armateurs du Saint-Laurent, the Association des industries forestières du Québec, all the pulp and paper industries, and the Business Development Bank of Canada. The federal government belongs to SODES, and SODES feels that there is a likelihood of the fees doubling. Canada Steamship Lines is a member-and I hardly need draw you a picture to show that its federal connections are not very distant ones. St. Lawrence Cement, the entire Quebec City Urban Community is a member, as is the Quebec-Cartier Mining Company, Trois-Rivières grain elevators, in my riding, le Groupe Desgagnés, le Groupe Océan. Industry Canada is also a member of SODES.
SODES is, therefore, very concerned about the effects which are, to use its members' own words, potentially devastating for the economy of Quebec, the cities and ports along the St. Lawrence. Industry Canada is a stakeholder in the SODES evaluation. The Quebec Maritime Institute, Lavery & de Billy-a major law firm-, Logistec Corporation, MIL Davie, Oceanex. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is also a member of SODES. The consistency of this government is quite evident.
Irving Oil too is a member. No less than Irving, of the fine province of New Brunswick, whose owner, let me remind you,-there must certainly be an element of family trust in this story-threatened to cut his children out of the will if they did not move out of Canada to avoid paying tax, to avoid his estate's ending up in Canada's tax coffers. Irving Oil is a member of SODES, in brackets, and is also threatened by the federal plans. The central St. Lawrence pilots, the port of Montreal, the port of Sept-Iles, the port of Trois-Rivières, the port of the Saguenay, to name just a few. The Shipping Federation of Canada, the Société du parc industriel et portuaire de Bécancour, Transport Canada-also a member-, Ultramar, the City of Montreal, Quebec City. I could go on and on; there are 110 in all.
So this is just the first step. We are talking about navigational aids only, because more information is available on this particular subject. It will be necessary to recover $20 million in 1996, out of projected $180 million to be recovered between now and the year 2000: $20 million this year, $40 million in each of the two following years, and then $60 million annually, the other items being deicing, the use of icebreakers and dredging of harbours.
Another source of irritation to users is the fact that, contrary to what was called for, there was no cost cutting by the Coast Guard itself, which might have reduced fees to users.
According to our information, the Coast Guard has never embarked on an exercise to streamline its operations, which would have made its case more convincing. We must realize that putting the burden on the shoulders of users weakens the competitive position of St. Lawrence ports and makes it less attractive for shippers to do business with us. The cost-cutting exercise never took place. As I pointed out earlier, there was no explanation of the actual services the Coast Guard offers its users on a day to day basis.
One of the points that, in my opinion, illustrates the disastrous consequences of lack of co-operation between Fisheries and Oceans and users concerns the way fees are charged, which is a very important aspect. A decision is made to charge fees, but how will this be done? Apparently there were two methods known to those in the industry. The first one is based on the size of the ship. I will give you a fictional tonnage: a ship that has a tonnage of 30,000 always has a tonnage of 30,000, wherever it may be.
The other method is according to the tonnage of cargo unloaded, which makes all the difference and is a sore point between ports of destination and ports of call. In this case, we have a major port of destination, the port of Montreal, and a major port of call, the port of Halifax. If we take the method based on the size of the ship, all ports are equal, but if the fee is based on tonnage unloaded, this works out to the advantage of the port where the unloading takes place.
So of course the port of Halifax has an advantage if the fee was based on the tonnage of cargo unloaded. So what was the Coast Guard's decision? It decided that fees would be based on the unloaded cargo tonnage, thus obviously favouring the port of Halifax at the expense of Montreal. Another good decision designed to favour Quebec's economy, right?
An additional consequence is that, again according to calculations made by SODES, which I mentioned earlier, these costs could reach one dollar per ton. There was so little consultation-and
SODES is a responsible organization, as we saw earlier-that, according to the Coast Guard, these additional costs could result in an increase of ten cents per ton.
There is therefore, as we can see, a huge gap between the estimates of two organizations that are supposed to be responsible, competent and capable of issuing an opinion. Someone may be wrong, but this discrepancy definitely shows that there was no co-operation.
A direct consequence of this is that, should things remain the same, the north shore region, including Baie-Comeau, Sept-Îles, Port-Cartier and other ports, not using icebreakers since there is not enough ice build up in that area, will be charged a fee for the use of icebreakers, even though there is no need. This will be the case because it was decided that, in such and such regions, under such and such conditions, it will cost so much money for the use of icebreakers. People are very concerned because, again, this situation will adversely affect these ports, in terms of their ability to compete with other ports.
What the Coast Guard did last spring shows that it did not know where it was going. For example, over two weeks, from the end of February to the middle of March, its overall fee schedule rose from $3.40 to $4.48, an increase of $1.08 or 33 per cent per gross ton. This is very important as it, in my opinion, contributes to this whole exercise's lack of credibility with users, because every time the Coast Guard is pressured by a lobby group into changing its fee schedules or procedures, it just so happens that the changes are made at the expense of Quebec's management and infrastructure. A $1.08 increase over two weeks is quite impressive when we are talking about three or four dollars.
Another practical consequence is that, according to what we have learned, a 25,000-ton ship will have to pay $112,000 a year just for navigational aids. Users will eventually also have to pay for ice breaking and dredging operations. Do you not think that this represents a serious threat to us all, at least in Quebec? Since all this is being managed from Ottawa, since Quebec has no say in these decisions, Quebec's overall economy may be seriously compromised by such actions if we fail to mobilize more against them.
Since I have only two minutes left, much to my surprise, I will quickly move on to the other decision made by the Coast Guard, which is a beauty. I am talking about recreational boaters.
The government has in the works an elaborate mandatory registration process for small craft: canoes, kayaks, rowboats and pedal boats. The fee will vary from $5 to $35 per craft and covers training courses and a penalty system. Again, the consultation was bogus-that is what we were told-strangely similar to the consultation process involving the users of the St. Lawrence River.
The great excuse given for meddling in this area is public safety. But how will paying a $25 fee before they set foot in their boats make recreational boaters more safety conscious? I think this is a relevant question. How will this make pleasure boaters more safety conscious, especially since this is based on the principle of user fees?
Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for lakes. It is pretty outrageous, in fact, for Fisheries and Oceans to look after the lakes and small rivers in Quebec, while the Coast Guard has jurisdiction over the St. Lawrence River, the Richelieu River, the Ottawa River and the Saguenay River. Those who vacation in Quebec, who spend money in Quebec and Canada, who take a rowboat or a pedal boat along any small river or lake in Canada are being obliged to pay up. They are being charged a fee while the owners of sumptuous boats are not being bothered. They have to register their boats, but can do so for free. Yet, they are the ones really who make the most use of the buoys, communications facilities and locks.
Do you know how much it apparently costs to move a 30-footer through a lock? The rate is 50 cents per foot. This means a mere $15 to get a lock opened. But they want to tax the individual who enjoys a ride on a pedal boat along the shore of a small lake. That is what it is, a tax, a disguised tax, which-and I say this as the critic for regional development-penalizes Quebecers and Canadians who vacation in Quebec and Canada. Perhaps some thought should be give to that, to how this affects those who spend at home instead of abroad. They are being penalized by this anti-regional development measure, among other things.
I could go on about this, but my time has expired.