Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today at third reading of Bill C-44, which makes the system of Canadian ports competitive by rationalizing its administration, and affects a number of aspects of the Canadian maritime industry.
One might wonder initially why such a bill is necessary. I would like to reply with an anecdote. I settled in Gaspé in 1980. When I arrived there, I was amazed at the port infrastructure, its natural capacity and the fact that it was underutilized.
By that point, I was already a staunch sovereignist, but one more significant argument in favour of sovereignty was added when one after another of the local people explained to us that there had been a little bit of favouritism involved when the decision was made to give priority to Halifax, and that there had been no real investment in this port so it could continue to operate in future and contribute fully to the regional economy.
In fact, the only time the federal government wanted to make proper use of it was during the Second World War. They were only too pleased to make use of the port's natural basin to protect the Allied fleet from repeatedly being picked off by German submarines.
During that time, people in Canada became aware, not only in Gaspé but everywhere in Quebec and Canada, that one of the greatest failures of Canadian federalism is the management of Canada's ports. There has been, particularly in the past 30 years, a waning interest, a repeated absence of any efficient policy, because of a stubborn desire at all stages, at all points in all of these reforms, to keep control highly centralized and to avoid any decentralization.
I think that it is a good thing that the need for new legislation has been looked at, the need to establish new ground rules so that the system will be better defined and more efficient and make a greater contribution to the economic development of both Quebec and Canada.
Perhaps the Quebec sovereignists should take some of the blame; the whole area of transportation, which falls under federal jurisdiction, has long eluded us. Now we can see that we would really need to have full control over this area in order to be able to use it in support of the Quebec economy, and north-south development in particular.
True to our word, we have taken an active part in developing the best possible legislation in this Parliament, in spite of the fact that we believe the best solution for Quebec is to become sovereign. In terms of marine policy, we wanted to ensure as much as possible that the errors of the past were cast aside because the federal jurisdiction in this area has always led to measures that were far from realistic.
Our port facilities were also seen as something of only local interest in the old days. For example, the river was ignored for many years because people had no idea of how important its development potential was, since those who owned it, that is to say the federal government, were not looking after it much, if at all, and the communities where the infrastructures were located did not feel responsible for them because they did not own them.
On both sides there were responsibilities that needed to be taken that were not because the fact that ports are identified as coming under federal jurisdiction in the Canadian Constitution no longer tallies with what maritime Canada is like today.
In addition, there was always the whole issue hint of patronage, which is still with us. Everyone in the Rivière-du-Loup area, in my riding, remembers all the campaigns where a great deal was made of the port of Cacouna. Before every election, the federal government would invariably decide to add something or at least promise to invest in the port of Cacouna. Sometimes the promise was kept in part, sometimes not at all.
One of the best examples of this is an excellent project, a $50 million project, that had been developed toward the end of the Conservative government's mandate. In the end, $3 million were allocated to widen the harbour entrance, which was one of the phases of the project. But two years after the announcement was made, and to this day, none of the other phases of the project have ever been implemented.
In this area as in many others in Canada, the problem is not with the plumbing but with the design. But, as long as we are part of Canada, we have to try to make the best possible legislation, and to make sure existing facilities are an asset, not a liability, for the economy.
The other important point regarding this legislation is that, in Canada, because the transportation sector is a shared jurisdiction, there is no integrated approach with the other transportation modes. The development of the marine, railway and highway sectors-the latter being a provincial jurisdiction-was always somewhat unstructured. There was no nationally integrated strategy in the transportation sector, and this is particularly obvious in the marine sector, as we will see in a moment.
There was also a need to do something about the fact that, in the past, port facilities in Canada were not subject to any performance standards.
Madam Speaker, I hope the hon. member is listening to my comments while she is talking, because it will make it easier for me.
Do we realize that, until now, the whole Canadian ports system was never really subject to any performance standards? Despite its very capable personnel, Transport Canada has no precise idea of the revenues and expenditures of each port facility. This says
something about the number of decisions made in the past that were not based on economic reality, on a solid development foundation, and we were able to see that when we travelled across the country.
The problem is this lack of obligation to perform, this somewhat old-fashioned tradition of associating ports with patronage. Indeed, let us not forget that, to this day-and, as I will mention later, the current bill does not really change the situation-the government can appoint a new harbour master right after an election; it can replace the person who has been holding that position for seven or eight years and start all over with a new incumbent. This is not to say the new harbour master is not competent, but it creates operational problems, as we experienced in Cacouna, for example. A very competent person had been appointed under the same process, several years earlier. That person knew the port and the captains who used it and was able to negotiate with them and with the longshoremen so that operations could be optimized.
Then, overnight, after the election, the Liberal government decided to put in somebody else, but it had nothing to do with this person's competence. They were perfectly competent. Someone else was appointed who is also competent, but who has had to go through the whole learning process.
So we can see the sort of situation that existed in the marine sector, the patronage side. Here as well there were important things to change.
The bill's approach to rectifying matters is to say that management must be rationalized. The best way to rationalize the management of Canada's ports is to transfer jurisdiction to the provinces. That is obviously the simplest solution, but with the Canadian Constitution, simple solutions do not often work.
So since the federal government is avoiding trying to change the Canadian Constitution because there is no viable amending formula that would not cause a major upheaval, it decided to come up with a bill that would allow commercialization, that would give greater responsibility for port facilities to the communities, without changing the responsibility provided for in the Constitution, which could, in the long term, still create problems. But an effort has been made in the bill to solve matters in this way, and we will look at what it says.
It is a very big undertaking, because the bill looks at the way in which Canada's national ports, such as Halifax, Montreal, Quebec City and Sept-Îles, as well as large ports like Trois-Rivières and those on the Saguenay, in addition to all regional ports, will be dealt with in the future.
When we looked into it, we found that 80 per cent of the activity in Canadian ports took place in 15 to 20 per cent of the ports. This could lead one to conclude that a number of facilities are seriously underutilized, but still generating operating costs that we can no longer really pay for as a society because we no longer have the means.
As the parliamentary secretary pointed out, this bill also raises the whole issue of the St. Lawrence Seaway. We will come back to that later, but there were many questions on what was the best choice for the future of the St. Lawrence Seaway, ranging from total privatization to the formation of a binational structure involving both the U.S. and Canada, with all manner of joint formulas thrown in for good measure. And I am not sure that we have found the ideal formula; we will look at it in a few minutes.
There is also another important element in this bill, the Pilotage Act. The study wanted to find out whether piloting in Canada was working properly, whether safety was being properly ensured, and whether it was competitive. You can see that there are two different aspects which are hard to balance out. On the one hand, you have the industry requirements; it wants to be competitive, able to offer a distribution system on the world market, a maritime circuit that is economically advantageous for those shipping by sea. On the other hand, there is a seaway, the entire St. Lawrence system, which is not easily navigable and has been made safe by the services ofSt. Lawrence pilots for hundreds of years.
In Quebec there is a very important tradition, one peculiar to the St. Lawrence, that piloting is virtually always done in French. This is important. A pilot on a ship needs to be able to communicate with other vessels, sometimes recreational and sometimes commercial, with all manner of vessels. Generally, the people on these vessels speak the language of the country, which means French, if along the St. Lawrence.
There has been a battle going on for some years now, as attempts have been made to restrict the protection of the French language for the pilots along the St. Lawrence, while at the same time trying to take away some of the advantages that have been earned by these pilots through having developed skills to ensure safe navigation of the river, in order to save some money.
But we have to determine what safety depends on. I think that in this respect, the work done by the Bloc Quebecois in committee saved the day, and I will get back to this later on when we discuss the various amendments submitted during consideration in committee.
A lot of work was done on this bill, as the parliamentary secretary pointed out. The Keyes report, a report by the Standing Committee on Transport, did an overview of the situation, which
led to Bill C-44 in its initial form. At this stage, the ports were very independent. There was practically no Canadian system.
Today, I understand why the bill was amended. It was for the same reasons mentioned by people we met when the committee travelled across Canada. In Bill C-44, to show people what it would be like, structures like the ADM or Aéroports de Montréal were set up; in other words, there was a transfer of full responsibility for an economic sector depending on marine transportation, but without any government supervision.
This would have led to impossible situations in a few years' time. Institutions or companies that were responsible for the ports might have had objectives widely differing from those of the Quebec government or the Canadian government, and this would have been quite unacceptable. In fact, people kept telling us this as the committee travelled across Canada, and fortunately, their comments were heard. Amendments were proposed which remedied the situation to some extent.
Another aspect of the initial bill was that the future of theSt. Lawrence Seaway was somewhat hazy. What the government had decided to do was not necessarily feasible and was in fact pretty risky. There was some discussion of this aspect, but I believe there has not been enough.
I referred to the pilotage situation earlier in my speech, and I want to get back to this. What happened in this respect is very interesting. Throughout consideration in committee, hardly any questions were raised. The bill restored the status quo, which satisfied the pilots' associations who saw this as a way to provide adequate safety levels on Canada's waterways.
In the initial bill, there was no problem on that score. However, the committee received a draft amendment-I do not know what lobby it came from or whether it was because of the way Canadian political parties are financed-that would take away from these pilots many of the resources they need to maintain adequate safety levels on the St. Lawrence.
The language of work on the St. Lawrence again became an issue, and some shipowners' associations that wanted to improve productivity had submitted a proposal and managed to put it on the table, although there had been no prior discussion in committee.
I met people on both sides a few weeks before, and the pilots said that Bill C-44 was excellent as far as the Pilotage Act was concerned. However, that evening when the amendment reached the committee from an unknown source, as I said earlier, the pilots panicked and asked us to do something. They said something was not working and wondered how it was that the government arrived at such an amendment, which bore no resemblance whatsoever to their submission or to their wishes. They said, for example, that the government wanted to impose the method of pilot selection and decide which captains could become pilots. This process does not work they way they would like, and they would like it changed.
When they saw the amendment, the pilots called on the Bloc Quebecois. The members of the Reform Party said this morning that they thought the Bloc was engaging in systematic obstruction. That is not so. The Bloc is not engaging in systematic obstruction. It is raising arguments in committee until it can convince people of the relevance of its arguments. That is what we tried to do.
We convinced the Liberal majority, because, when the committee report was tabled, we had the Liberals' agreement to withdraw this amendment and their changes to the rules of the game. I consider this a major victory for safety in Canada's shipping industry.
The initial bill contained the whole issue of regional ports in Quebec, like those in Baie-Comeau, Cacouna, Rimouski and Gaspé, and other medium sized ports throughout Canada, which are not identified as Canadian port authorities and which serve different functions.
These include ports with ferry docks and commercial ports. Initially, the bill concerned all ports indiscriminately and provided for their transfer to regional or provincial authorities, but without specific rules or concepts.
Through consultation and amendments in committee, we managed to establish a distinction between the concept of ferry port and that of commercial port. It is important to know that a ferry port has little revenue. It is essentially a road link. Cars are permitted to board a vessel in order to cross a waterway.
However, the income for the dock itself is not so important. What counts is the economic benefits. We have shown this to be the case in the Rivière-du-Loup region. A study, commissioned by the economic development corporations of Rivière-du-Loup and Saint-Siméon, showed that the operation of this ferry generated $25 million per year in economic spinoffs, including $3.5 million or $4 million in tax revenue for each of the governments.
This is one argument used to convince the federal authorities that any subsidy given at the provincial level, for instance, to keep the ferry in operation nine months per year instead of only four or five months is money well spent because economic activity boosts government revenues. It would therefore not be in the Quebec government's interest to do away with this subsidy.
As far as the federal government is concerned, the repair costs, for the wharf in Rivière-du-Loup for example, may seem to be a throwback to the old days when governments handed out money to local communities. But that is not at all the case. The truth of the matter is that, if and when it finally agrees to divesting, the federal government will actually be helping increase its future tax reve-
nues because, with a decent port infrastructure, the ferry will go on bringing in nearly $4 million in tax revenue every year.
At this rate, even if the federal government invested $15 million or $20 million in a port facility with a 30 year life cycle, within five years, this investment would be recovered, which is certainly worthwhile.
This is another aspect of Bill C-44, which required careful consideration and a great deal of work. Our consultations took us on a tour that proved to be very instructive, as it made us realize how diverse our maritimes structures are in Canada.
These consultations came about as a result of the report to which I referred earlier, and to which the hon. member for Beauport-Montmorency-Orléans, on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, made a very significant contribution, and the minority report which, among other things, sought to protect pilots. In this regard, we found, as I said earlier, a wide variety of port facilities in the country, and we heard a lot from port authorities. Port authorities are entities which are strangely similar to what the Canada port authorities will be under the new act, but they enjoy more leeway than will be provided in the act.
The directors of these port authorities told us: "Before granting private status to large Canadian ports under Bill C-44, take a look at how we operate, because we currently enjoy greater autonomy than is provided under the act". We took their arguments into account and made sure that the port authority will have a structure closer to what it should be, even though we did not agree with all the arguments put forward by these stakeholders.
Before abolishing existing port authorities, the federal government should look at all the implications, so as to make the best possible decision. There are situations where it would be preferable to maintain port authority status, and thus protect the economic life of a region, through the best possible economic development tool.
During these consultations, the national ports made an attempt to be recognized as a federal agency. Let us be clear: in its original form, Bill C-44 gave a great deal of autonomy to ports, as I mentioned earlier, but without providing the guarantee enjoyed by a federal agency.
Such a remark might seem astonishing coming from a sovereignist, but our analysis shows that, if Quebec attains sovereignty in two or three years, it will be very important when federal statutes become Quebec statues during the transition period that our national ports enjoy the status of national ports when they turn to outside markets for loans or business. As long as we are part of Canada, I think it important that these ports enjoy this status.
This is why, from the beginning, we supported national ports seeking a change in their status. The round of consultations also made us aware of the situation faced by remote ports.
Ports that are unable to keep up with the rules of market competition are unable to meet market objectives and requirements. We saw this in the far north. We saw it in northern Manitoba. I think the federal government should look at the possibility of giving this status to ports in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
The member for Bonaventure-Îles-de-la-Madeleine made absolutely no representations in this regard but, as usual, he is rather out of touch with the concerns of the people of Îles-de-la-Madeleine. Having spent three years trying to deliver on a still unfulfilled promise regarding the purchase of a ferry, he has not had time to look into the status of the port at Cap-aux-Meules. I think the federal government could do something about this error during the coming weeks and months, in the list of remote ports, and see how this could be accomplished.
Other important matters were studied, including intermodality. In the transportation sector, where at least two levels of government are regularly involved, it has been very difficult to establish intermodal systems. Basically, intermodal means that what comes off a ship in Cacouna can be put on the train in a piggy back, and when the train reaches New York, Toronto or Boston, the freight can be shipped the rest of the way by truck.
This kind of interaction between transportation modes does not work under the Canadian system, where the federal government and the provincial government are both anxious to protect their jurisdictions and keep their budgets strictly separate.
A provincial government can take action with respect to highway transportation. In Quebec, since the federal government has divested itself of its responsibility for railway transportation, our highways are overloaded, due to the fact that the railway network has been under-utilized. And consider our waterways. Imagine how we could maximize our use of the St. Lawrence River.
The advent of free trade has made Quebecers very aware of this, and the same applies to Ontarians. Today, we have networks that are better integrated. For instance, the port of Montreal is connected with Canadian Pacific, the two St. Lawrence-Hudson railway lines which connect Montreal with the markets of Detroit and Chicago and also provide a connection with New England. There is a future in this sort of thing, but we were late off the mark. We have some catching up to do. Under the present system, until both governments have responsibilities that are distinct, I think it will be very difficult to get satisfactory results.
There is also the whole aspect of policing our ports. In this respect, the federal government is acting like a creature of habit. It failed to include the provinces in its planning, so that today, and particularly in Quebec, there is no attempt to co-ordinate police services in the ports to ensure that there is agreement on terms of reference and responsibilities. This is one of the aspects that remains to be resolved, and which is not dealt with satisfactorily in this bill.
The important work in committee went well. As far as pilotage is concerned, we got through the Liberals' box of amendment surprises all right. Where it came from nobody knows, but I would guess it was from the party's election fund, because of the longstanding dispute between the pilots and the shipowners. In fact, it was the pilots against the shipowners through the regional administrations. One problem has not been solved. It was, however, a good defensive fight.
However, safety on the St. Lawrence was not questioned. And the bill contained no clauses that would have been regretted two, three or five years down the road after a major shipping accident as can happen on the St. Lawrence. In addition to rowboats, there are oil tankers and ore carriers on the river. There is a lot of shipping that could have a major effect on the environment, in the event of an accident. It would have been a big mistake to amend things too quickly, under pressure and at the risk of safety. The pilots who spoke to me about it described the situation as it stands. The status quo is far more preferable to what was in the amendment.
Is there a happy medium? Perhaps. There should be one. We should have taken the time before passing the bill at third reading to look into the issue more, to resolve the problem and to record it correctly in the legislation. Formulas are provided in the bill. That means another battle in the coming weeks, months or years, but we must not sacrifice safety.
The ultimate solution must provide a level of safety that is watertight and avoid our regretting in five, ten or twenty years passing measures that put the future of the St. Lawrence at risk, such as in the case of the future Saguenay-St. Lawrence marine park, probably the most popular in the world, which will be established under federal and provincial legislation that we hope will be passed very soon. Unfortunately, it will be after the upcoming election, probably.
It would be totally absurd for the Canadian government put money into developing the park while, in failing to pass adequate safety regulations, ending up contributing to an marine disaster that would irretrievably damage the park. In this respect, there have accidents worldwide, which speak for themselves and are worthy of closer consideration.
In committee, the Bloc Quebecois obtained not only that major ports be granted federal agency status for the purpose of appointing the boards of directors, but also that only individuals who have relevant knowledge in the field be appointed. The minister will still have some leeway. Perhaps some aspects of the bill should have been made tighter, more airtight. It is not totally satisfactory, but it is a step in the right direction. There is still a way to go, but we will now be able to judge the current minister and his successors on the consequences of their actions.
Aside from the point about the pilots, the finest victory the Bloc Quebecois has won in this struggle in committee was having the ports of the Saguenay and Trois-Rivières recognized as Canadian port authorities, or CPAs. Had it not been for the pressure brought to bear by the hon. member for Trois-Rivières, who incidentally nagged me day in and day out to have the port of Trois-Rivières included in the bill, it would probably not have been included.
If members recall the statements made on air by the Prime Minister to a certain radio station in the Mauricie region, he himself was not too clear about what a Canadian port authority and a local port authority were. But the hon. member for Trois-Rivières was, and he made representations. We moved an amendment in this respect, which the government approved after hearing our supporting arguments.
In the case of the port of Saguenay, I remember more dramatic events, since it was the late hon. member for Jonquière who made representations. I remember meeting the administrator of the port of Saguenay, in Quebec City. She showed us very clearly that, even if the port of Saguenay is smaller than those in the rest of the country that come under the responsibility of Canadian port authorities, it still met all the criteria and should therefore get the same status.
So, the fact that two Quebec ports now come under the responsibility of Canadian port authorities, which was not the case under the original list, is a victory for the Bloc Quebecois.
As regards divesting of regional wharfs, we asked time and again that the conditions of such divesting be included in the act, and that the $125 million fund provided for these facilities be increased, so as to be sure that they can enjoy all the necessary benefits as quickly as possible.
We also scored a victory since an amendment was moved by a member from Newfoundland providing that services will be maintained until there is divesting, when a ferry service is provided at that facility. Under that amendment, if the province decides to maintain a ferry service, for example between Saint-Juste-du-Lac
and Notre-Dame-du-Lac, in the region of Témiscouata-located in the future riding I hope to represent in the next Parliament-the federal government is committed to not ending the service at these two facilities, as long as the province or local authority continues to provide a ferry service. This significant gain was the result of our representations and those of others.
Let us look at concrete examples of divesting. In my riding, there are at least four cases. There is a ferry wharf in Rivière-du-Loup. Earlier, I showed that renovating the port facility is a significant and appropriate investment for the federal government. I think this should be done in the next few years, at the same time as divesting is perhaps being carried out through the Government of Quebec. Trois-Pistoles also has a ferry.
Until now, it has been possible to patch up the wharf from election to election. Fortunately, there are referendums from time to time that help matters. It is grass roots politics in action, but some local authorities made some good connections and the result was that, by chance, they were able to obtain a nice little bonus, something like $500,000 before the last referendum campaign. I think people were really pleased, because it is prolonging the life of the wharf. However, this approach is not necessarily feasible in the medium term. A way must be found of ensuring that facilities are developed without having to rely on the vagaries of political patronage.
There are other situations, such as the one at Cacouna. This is a port that is economically very attractive. It is making money and the community is prepared to take it over. It was mentioned by the minister, along with the port at Baie-Comeau, as a facility that the community had already expressed an interest in buying. This, by the way, is something I am proud of because, from the beginning, I passed on the information to all people in the area interested in ensuring the development of this port.
For many years now, even before my election to office, people have been saying that the port of Cacouna should have an independent marketing plan so as to be able to compete with other ports on the market, and that is how divesting came to be considered. If it could be taken over by the community under interesting conditions, it would also be possible to have a marketing plan that would allow this port to show, among other things, the advantage it has in its longshoremen. The longshoremen are highly competent and productive, and do not go around seeing problems where there are none. Since the beginning of the year, there has been a very significant increase in port use, which I find very interesting.
Personally, what I see as the most significant and most satisfying contribution is the Bloc Quebecois amendment adopted yesterday at the report stage, aimed at altering the very objective of this bill. In the original text, the objective is stated as to "implement a National Marine Policy that provides Canada with the marine infrastructure that it needs and that will promote and safeguard Canada's competitiveness and trade objectives".
I have had an amendment added, which received majority support, which now indicates that competitiveness is not the only concern, but that it must also be an effective tool for the achievement of local, regional and national social and economic objectives. Thus, every time the federal government decides the future of a port, if it respects the spirit of its legislation it will have to take into account what the economic and social impact of closing the facility will be.
In the coming years, we will judge the government on its compliance with this amendment. I am particularly happy that we managed to convince the government to accept it so that, even without a constitutional amendment I consider necessary, the legislation would at least improve the present situation. We will be able to assess the effectiveness of the current government in the coming years.
One problem that was not adequately addressed in the policy is its integration into the Quebec economy. The St. Lawrence is not seen as the asset it should be. The future of the St. Lawrence Seaway is not properly defined.
The link between rail transportation and trucking is not sufficiently clear. It is an economic tool that has long been and will continue to be underutilized without further amendment. Canada's marine policy is also an economic tool that has a major impact in the regions, whether at Cacouna, Baie-Comeau, Sept-Îles, Gaspé or Cap-aux-Meules-all examples I gave initially.
Here are the reasons we will oppose this bill. First, in terms of management of harbour police, no agreement was reached with the provinces. In the problem with pilotage, safety comes first and foremost, and the Liberals' amendments must be rejected. Follow-up in the future must be ensured. We could today even have gone further and come up with a real solution, but at least we took a defensive stance protecting the safety of our waterways.
In the bill, the issue of the St. Lawrence Seaway is not addressed clearly enough. It is not made clear enough whether it will be privatized or become a binational corporation.
How transparent will the divesting be? Would it not have been possible to include in the legislation some rules and procedures to ensure the process is free from the vagaries of politics, based on clear and specific economic choices and more sensitive to Quebec's economic strategy? This would have required clarification of the cost recovery issue. For instance, will icebreaking costs ruin operations that people have taken over?
There are also concerns about encountering the same kind of difficulties encountered with airports. Nowhere in this bill is a vision regarding intermodal transportation expressed, and no tools are provided to deal with north-south demands in our trade relations with the U.S. I think this developing market have been overlooked in the bill. Finally, one last concern: they did not budge on the issue of casinos on cruise ships.
For all these reasons, while the bill is the result of a very meaningful and dynamic consultation process, there is still much that remains to be improved on. The government should have allowed time to go into more detail and resolve the problems. This way, the bill would have been truly satisfactory in addressing the needs of Canada's marine infrastructure as an economic tool that will have an impact not only tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, but also 10, 15 or 20 years down the road. For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois will vote against the bill at third reading.