That Bill C-9, an act for making the system of Canadian ports competitive, efficient and commercially oriented, providing for the establishing of port authorities and the divesting of certain harbours and ports, for the commercialization of the St. Lawrence seaway and ferry services and other matters related to maritime trade and transport and amending the Pilotage Act and amending and repealing other acts as a consequence, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Transport.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to speak to hon. members about the bill before the House, the Canada marine act. One of the government's central goals is to strengthen Canada's economy and create a climate that supports job creation and investment. Only with a solid economic foundation can we retain the standard of living and social benefits that we have come to expect as Canadians.
Fast, reliable, low cost transportation is critical to Canada's economy. We must have a transportation system that is safe, efficient, competitively priced and operated according to sound business practices.
We have been working since 1993 to modernize Canada's transportation network, by commercializing operations, reducing subsidies and modernizing the legislation.
In all modes, air, surface and maritime, we are working toward greater efficiency by increasing user input and improving community and regional economies.
Our goal is a national integrated transportation system for the new millennium, one that will help Canada meet the challenges of competing in a global marketplace. A modernized multimodal transportation network will help to create jobs and growth by supporting domestic and international trade and by promoting tourism.
Marine transportation is of vital importance to Canada's economic health and makes an enormous contribution to our international trade, tourism and jobs. The sector handles 40% of the freight we ship each year. That accounts for 200 million tonnes of our trade with other countries, which translates into more than $2.5 billion a year in revenue and more than 45,000 Canadian jobs.
Canada's marine sector has to adapt to the challenges of the next millennium. It must keep up with changing markets, competition and a changing commodity mix. Modernizing the marine sector will have a direct impact on jobs and growth. A stronger and more efficient marine transportation system will improve our international trade performance and that means more jobs for Canadians.
It was to accomplish this goal that the Department of Transport began a review of Canada's marine management and regulatory regime in 1994. The next year the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport undertook a study of the marine sector. The leadership of my now parliamentary secretary, the hon. member for Hamilton West, was evident throughout the process. The report on the marine sector became known as the Keyes report.
There were many recommendations which flowed from this report to improve the marine system.
Following the report the department held regional meetings with shippers and industry to discuss the recommendations and then began a series of consultations with key players in the maritime sector. Together these activities helped to shape the government's national marine policy which was announced in December 1995.
The policy is designed to increase efficiency in the maritime sector, reduce costs and give communities more control over their ports. It will help to ensure that Canada's marine sector continues to support international trade. It will also help us to continue to meet our top priorities, safety, security and environmental protection.
The policy calls for the government to continue, as regulators, our commitment to safe marine transportation and a clean environment.
The centrepiece of all this is the bill before us, which the government has reintroduced as Bill C-9. It was originally tabled in the House in June 1996 but did not complete the parliamentary process when the House adjourned in April 1997, prior to third reading in the Senate, as the election intervened.
We have reintroduced the legislation as it was passed in this House last spring. Not a dot, a comma or a change has been made. If changes are to be made the committee will deal with them.
We consider this an important bill. That is why we have introduced it as is. It is important to the competitiveness of our marine sector.
I welcomed the co-operation I received from the other parties who have agreed with my judgment that this bill should be referred to committee as soon as possible so that detailed study can begin.
We know that industry supports this bill and wants to see the marine system improved.
The revised act will consolidate and simplify maritime regulations, reduce red tape, and speed up commercial decision-making. It will enable the ports to meet client needs more efficiently and to reduce the bureaucracy. Overall, it will make our maritime sector competitive.
The bill will meet seven broad objectives. First, it will promote and safeguard Canada's competitiveness and trade objectives. Second, it will base marine infrastructure and services on international practices and approaches consistent with those of our trading partners. Third, it will ensure that marine transportation services are organized to satisfy the needs of users and are available at a reasonable cost. Fourth, it will provide a high level of safety and environmental protection. Fifth, it will provide a higher degree of autonomy for the management of the marine transportation system. Sixth, it will manage the marine infrastructure according to good business practices. Seventh, it will provide for the transfer of certain ports and facilities.
There are four main components to this bill. I do not think time will permit me to get into detail on all of them. However, I would like to say a few words about one in particular which is of great interest to members of the House, the port system. The bill will deal with pilotage, on which I believe consensus was reached in the last Parliament. It will deal with the seaway and it will deal with the ports themselves.
The port system has to be modernized. There is no question about that.
We have to go into the new millennium with a structure for our ports which is comprehensive and adaptable to all the needs that will be thrust on them.
We need to step up the commercial discipline of the port system and to simplify the decision-making process.
The bill will help us to make public ports into commercial ventures, and to gradually phase out the Canadian Ports Corporation.
Ports deemed essential to domestic and international trade will form a national port system and will be managed by Canada port authorities made up of representatives of user groups and governments.
Any port can apply to become a port authority, CPA as we affectionately call it. To be accepted it has to meet four criteria. It has to be financially self-sufficient, it must have diversified traffic, it must have strategic significance to trade and a link to a major highway or railway line.
The CPAs will be set up as non-share capital corporations with board of directors made up of federal, provincial and municipal appointments and user representatives. CPAs will recover their costs from fees charged to customers and must comply with the relevant provisions of the Canada Business Corporations Act. They will not receive federal funding. The era of federal subsidies is over.
CPAs will be agents of the crown. Agent status will allow ports to pay for grants in lieu of taxes and will reinforce the ports' immunity from provincial taxation and regulation. Agent status will be limited to core port activities.
The directors of the CPAs will have to conform to codes of conduct and the government will set up a public accountability regime with new disclosure requirements. In addition, there will be annual financial audits and special examinations of the management operations and financial performance of CPAs every five years.
Port authorities will be accountable to their customers, local communities, the financial community and to the three levels of government, federal, provincial and municipal.
CPAs will have to seek financing from the private sector. The federal government will no longer be around to be responsible for their debts.
A second category of ports, regional and local ports, will be transferred to provincial and municipal governments, community organizations, private interests and in some cases other federal departments over the next six years. The process of divesting these ports is already well under way. To assist this the government has established a $125 million six year port divestiture fund to ease the transition.
The Government of Canada will continue to ensure operation of remote ports. Remote ports have been identified using criteria which reflect the communities degree of isolation. Reliance of marine and transportation is essential to their survival and we shall continue to support them.
This policy will be applied equitably and consistently across the country.
I want to pay particular attention to the sensitivities which some members have expressed to me in Atlantic Canada about the future of ports in that region. This is Canada's original maritime area. The sea, the ports and sea traffic are so vital to all those communities. In particular there appears to be a challenge in Prince Edward Island. This is a challenge I would hope the committee could examine in great detail.
Many of these concerns were expressed in the other place when Bill C-44 was before committee. In addition, many of my colleagues have approached me in the last few weeks with concerns.
I and my colleagues in cabinet will be sensitive to those concerns. We shall try to address all legitimate problems in a fair and equitable way to ensure this bill does truly reflect the national consensus.
Time does not permit me to talk about the other elements but other speakers on our side will talk about the rest of the bill and how important it is for quick passage by the House.