Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak against Bill C-15, an act to amend the Canada Shipping Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts brought forward by the Minister of Transport.
We in the New Democratic Party agree that it is time to bring some clarification to the Canada Shipping Act. We have all heard that the shipping act is second only in size and complexity to the Income Tax Act and could use some updating. However, the government is also taking this opportunity to bring forward some amendments that have raised concerns.
As I said, the New Democrats believe it is time to reform the Canada Shipping Act. Bill C-15 intends to do just that by adding a preamble to the Canada Shipping Act to clarify its objectives, definitions and interpretations, and to lay out the roles and responsibilities of the ministers of transport and fisheries and oceans. Currently there is no introductory part to the Canada Shipping Act.
We understand that ministerial accountabilities must be clarified. Reoganization of the departments of the coast guard, fisheries and oceans and transport has resulted in a lack of clarity within the shipping act regarding ministerial responsibilities. There is need to clarify those responsibilities, those of the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and to provide clear legislative authorities for the operation of their departments.
Questions have been raised with regard to that response. I will note some of these questions and concerns. Why are the powers divided between the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans? These powers have already been divided.
As it now stands, the Department of Transport is responsible for ship safety, but the Canadian coast guard is in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The result is that when ship safety officers from the Canadian coast guard have to board vessels, two departments, transport and fisheries and oceans, have to be involved, unless ship safety instead goes to the Department of Justice and travels to RCMP vessels or goes to the defence department and uses military vehicles.
It was brought to my attention that Bill C-15 replicates the wording of a certain international marine centre. In a paper, the executive director of that centre wrote about the primary elements to achieve competitiveness in international shipping: tax free status at the corporate level, a flexible manning regime and the application of ship safety standards that are genuinely international. I cannot help but feel worried that Bill C-15 could replicate the wording of this centre. A tax free status at the corporate level sounds familiar.
Second, it calls for a flexible manning regime. What exactly does that mean? I am almost afraid to ask. It is common knowledge that sailors' human rights are often violated on foreign vessels. We cannot accept in Canada the lowering of working conditions for sailors. We do not want a system, as in some countries of the third world, where sailors have no rights aboard a ship and where they are at the mercy of the company they work for.
Finally, it calls for the application of ship safety standards that are genuinely international. This would be acceptable only if those standards are higher than Canadian ones, and I doubt that.
An article in the Montreal Gazette noted that federal fisheries observers are afraid that some foreign ships they are assigned to are in such poor shape they could break apart and sink. We can expect that it is not only fishing vessels which are in bad shape. We should not be compromising the environment or sailors' lives.
The executive of the marine centre has suggested that Bill C-15 will allow vessels which are owned abroad to be transferred to the Canadian registry. Operating in international trade, these vessels would fly the Canadian flag but would not be taxed in Canada. They would carry non-resident crews who would not be covered by the provisions of the Canada Labour Code. A Canadian flag of convenience deep-sea fleet would be an inexorable threat to domestic employment in the coasting trade. We need legislation from the government to ensure this does not happen.
Under language in section 18 of the new act, foreign built equipment could more easily be brought into Canada. The only restriction on chartering a foreign vessel and working it in Canada would be that it not be registered in another country while it is being bare-boated in Canada. Why would domestic operators use Canadian built vessels when they can charter or purchase those more cheaply abroad?
Advocates of unrestricted trade would argue that Canadians can compete with anyone, that technology and know-how are more important to market success than cheap labour, but this does not cut it in the shipbuilding industry.
This change would allow U.S. shipyards to build vessels for the Canadian coastal trade, but the Jones Act of the United States will deny Canadian shipyards the same opportunity in the U.S. market. As it is, U.S. shipyards have the competitive advantages that come from contracts for military vessels which effectively subsidize the overhead costs of commercial boat building.
On the west coast, the domestic fleet relies on cross-border trade for a significant portion of its revenue. Under the proposed changes, freighters or tugs and barges could be bare-boated from abroad, carry non-resident crews and compete for this international business.
On the Great Lakes, the loss of cross-border business could have even more dramatically negative consequences.
Has the government considered the implications for Canada-U.S. relations? Do we believe that U.S. coastal operators and unions, who aggressively defend their country's cabotage rules, would happily accept price cutting competition from Canadian flag vessels carrying low paid Philippine, Indonesian or Burmese crews?
We have heard concerns about the fact that ships under 15 tonnes will be exempted from mandatory registration under the act. Their registration will be optional under section 17. The department's logic is that registration of the large number of small vessels is neither practical nor necessary.
However, towboats of under 15 tonnes tow equipment and fuel barges as well as log tows, competing with vessels which are registered and required to meet Transport Canada's vessel standards. The unregistered vessels not only undercut vessels which meet standards, they are doing work which is hazardous to the environment and to other marine traffic. Often their equipment does not meet minimum standards. Their operators are often not certified.
Some of the major objectives in the Canada Shipping Act are to protect the health and well-being of individuals, including the crews of ships, promote safety in the marine transportation system and protect the marine environment from damage due to navigation and shipping activities. If the act is designed to provide a level playing field then all vessels engaged in commercial activities should be registered and inspected, regardless of tonnage. As well, the act should require risk assessment in standards of equipment and certification.
Registration should be required for all vessels towing field barges or other hazardous goods. It is important for the safety of our waterways. It has also been brought to my attention that with the downturn in the fishery on the east and west coasts many fishermen have turned toward tourism as an alternative source of income. This has led to an increasing number of tour boats. These boats might be under 15 tonnes. Are we going to put our tourists at risk on boats that were not duly inspected because they were less than 15 tonnes? Let there be no misunderstanding. I am not suggesting the small pleasure craft need to be inspected. I, along with my colleagues and the transport committee, will have to work against this.
Now, the inspections. I strongly oppose the government authorizing any person, classification society or other organization to conduct the inspections. This section is contrary to the stated objections of the new act. Privatization of inspection will not encourage viable, effective and economic marine transportation. What it will do is increase bottom line pressures to cut corners to do things the cheap way rather than the safe way. It is very worrying to think that the minister will hand over the inspection of ships from Transport Canada inspectors.
Were this amendment to pass into law, the job of inspecting oil tankers and chemical tankers operating in Canadian waters could become a patronage appointment. Even if the inspections were to be handed over to classification societies, there is still some cause for concern.
In 1996 Transport Canada marine safety branch inspected 1,184 foreign flag ships. Of these 10% were detained as being in such poor condition that they were not allowed to sail until they had done major repairs. Yet every one of these ships had valid certificates issued by a classification society. It is no wonder that each year statistically 10 bulk carriers sink without trace, usually taking their 25 person crew with them. Yet, as the crews are mostly from third world countries, we rarely hear of it.
It is very obvious that when classification societies are allowed to operate without government supervision the market sets the standards for safety with the job always going to the cheapest, usually the least safe operator. Are we ready to accept such a system in Canada?
We suffer from the cuts to airports. We suffer from the privatization of port police. Are we now going to have to suffer because ship safety will go down? We cannot put our safety and our environment in jeopardy. The classification societies include disclaimers of responsibility in all their documents and several court cases over the years have shown them immune from being sued, even where there is evidence of negligence.
A further point of concern is in section 317-1, inspections by others. The revenues generated by Transport Canada ship inspections will now be handed over to the private sector. A figure of $12 million per annum has been stated. Canada must compete with the United States and we are at a competitive disadvantage.
The United States has the Jones Act. The act is extremely protectionist. We do not have an equivalent act in Canada to protect Canadian interests. The U.S. with its Jones Act ensures the cargo that is carried between U.S. ports is carried aboard U.S. ships that are U.S. built, U.S. registered, U.S. owned, U.S. crewed and repaired and serviced by U.S. firms. So much for free trade.
In many cases the trade in Canada has become dominated by foreign flag vessels flying flags of convenience from low jurisdictions such as Panama. It is alleged by some in the industry that Canada Steamship Lines, the company owned by the finance minister, has made use of these tax evading measures.
It is time to implement a Jones-like act in Canada that would require minimum levels of Canadian content in shipping activity. Furthermore, it is time we insisted that ships traversing Canada's inland waters be Canadian built and Canadian flagged. There are many needed changes in the bill, but we can do better.
To conclude, my party will not support Bill C-15 as it is today.