Mr. Speaker, I do not think I am going to use the 32 minutes I am allowed since we are in favour of this bill.
However, as I mentioned in my remarks before question period, I would like to reiterate our disappointment in the fact that we are called upon now to discuss this bill to ratify an international agreement reached nearly two years ago, when the deadline for the ratification of the agreement is January 29, 2000. Since the House does not sit in January, parliamentarians are really called upon to express their views on this bill at the very last minute.
Perhaps I should address one particular aspect of this bill. It seems to have become a habit, as I noticed myself last year with Bill C-54, to include the substance of the bill in the schedule. While the bill per se is only six pages long, the schedule contains 26 pages.
There is a provision in the bill that says that, once the bill passed, after nearly two years, the minister will only need an order in council to amend the agreement through changes to the schedule. It is as simple as that.
Here we are, two years later, and this is the first time we hear about that in the House. It might well be the last, even if the agreement can be changed at the international level by different partners.
I dare say that I find this rather highhanded. It may be a matter of form rather than substance, but I would not like the government to continue in that vein, because it would be tantamount to gagging members of parliament.
This project, a civil international space station, is extremely important, and the Bloc Quebecois obviously does not want to unduly hold up the legislative process, because the impact of this project in Quebec is quite significant. I remind the House that the Canadian Space Agency is headquartered in St. Hubert, near Montreal.
The space agency has offices in each province, but since its headquarters are in St. Hubert, many businesses in the Montreal area and in other regions in Quebec benefit from the spinoffs.
The bill itself is quite short; it is only 6 pages long. It might be interesting to give a general idea of each one of its clauses. When I have to address the House, I make a point of reading all the clauses of a bill, even when there are many. In this case, there are only 13, so we should be able to go through them fairly quickly.
We have no problem with clause 1, which deals with the title of the bill, since we are talking about the Civil International Space Station Agreement Implementation Act.
I will ship the first part of clause 2, but I would draw the attention of parliamentarians to the definition of “minister”. I know it is commonly used in legislation. It is good to remind people that we live in a so-called sovereign state.
The definition of “minister” reads “member or members of the Queen's Privy Council of Canada.” This is the Queen of England of course. It is good to remind ourselves that, although Canada claims it is a sovereign state, it still maintains very clear ties with the monarchy.
Clause 3 states “The purpose of this Act is to fulfill”—I emphasize the word fulfill—“Canada's obligations under the agreement”. We are talking about two years later.
Clause 4 states “This act is binding on Her Majesty in right of Canada or a province.” Same as before.
Clause 5 states “The governor in council may designate one or more members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada as the minister or ministers for the purpose of this act.” We have no problem with this one either.
Clearly clause 6 gives a lot of power to the minister. It reads “The minister may delegate any powers, duties and functions to one or more persons”. One comment in this respect. I hope the minister will not delegate any duty to the secret service agent who lost his documents. We are talking about space and things could go wrong.
Clause 7 states:
The Minister may send a notice to any person that the Minister believes, on reasonable grounds, has information or documents relevant to the administration or enforcement of this Act, requesting the person to provide, within any period that the Minister specifies, that information or those documents to the Minister or any person that the Minister designates.
That is very nice. Such notice could be sent to people who might have important information on space research, many aspects of which may be top secret.
Clause 8 reads as follows “No person in possession of information or a document that has been provided under this act or the agreement shall knowingly communicate it”. But there are two exceptions.
That is when the communication or access is in the public interest or necessary for the administration or enforcement of the act or the agreement.
Clause 9 states:
The Governor in Council may make regulations that the Governor in Council considers necessary for carrying out the purpose of this Act and giving effect to the Agreement—
The governor in council is the cabinet. I repeat, this agreement can be changed merely by changing the schedule, without going back to the House.
Clause 10 states:
The Minister shall, by order, amend the schedule to incorporate any amendment to the Agreement—
As I just said, the agreement of parliament is not required.
Clause 11 is longer, so I will just give a summary.
Section 7 of the criminal code is amended to include offences committed by a Canadian crew member even if he or she is in space. Similarly, the law would apply to a crew member from a partner state who commits an act or omission affecting the life or security of a Canadian crew member or a flight element belonging to Canada.
As for clause 12(3), it is worthwhile reading it in its entirety, for it is not very long:
If the employee or the dependants referred to in subsection (1) elect to claim compensation under this Act, Her Majesty shall be subrogated to the rights of the employee or dependants and may, subject to the Agreement implemented by the Civil International Space Station Agreement Implementation Act, maintain an action in the name of the employee or dependants or of Her Majesty against the person against whom the action lies and any sum recovered shall be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
As we can see, this is very vague. However, it is normal to have recourse, but all this is subject to the approval of Her Majesty, which is “subrogated to the rights of the employee or dependants and may, subject to the agreement implemented—”
Clause 13 deals with the coming into force of the act.
The schedule, which is the agreement itself, is very interesting. It mentions many things.
It indicates that the whole process began in 1984. We are discussing the agreement now, in 1999, but the whole process began in 1984. Since then, there was, among other events, a meeting between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada at the time. I will never forget that meeting, which ended with the former Prime Minister and leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and the U.S. President, Mr. Reagan, bursting out in song together. At the time, everyone recognized that Canada was very, very close to the Americans.
I am pointing this out, because we recently travelled to Russia to meet a Russian parliamentary committee on science and technology, as part of an economic mission led by the Secretary of State for Science, Research and Development. People asked questions about the space station, because the Russians are experiencing financial problems and are having difficulties meeting the requirements of the agreement they signed in 1998.
The Russian parliamentarians' objections had to do with Canada always appearing to be too close to the United States and to be in agreement with the Americans.
Earlier, I mentioned our ties with the Commonwealth. The Russians believed, and they were very blunt about it, that we were too close to the Americans, and they had doubts about the future of the space station. So much so that they insisted on keeping a separate module, which is the exception on board this particular space station. The Russians absolutely want a module not accessible to the rest of the space station, because they do not trust the Americans.
Now, I will not go over all the other pages of this substantial schedule, which deals with international rights and obligations, management, intellectual property and, of course, research. The latter is an important issue, because Canada is taking part in this initiative. I think it is important that we preserve intellectual property rights over the research Canada will have invested in. The same thing goes for the other participating countries.
I would like to underscore the special contribution of Canada to this research project through the Canadian Space Agency, thanks to the mobile servicing system. People will ask “What is the mobile maintenance system?”. It is the famous Canadarm, which will be able to move just about anywhere in the station.
I was fascinated , during a visit I paid with the other members of the Standing Committee on Industry to the space agency in St. Hubert, by the way mobility is achieved. The Canadarm has two hands, so to speak, and if it attaches itself to one part of the station, the other hand can move about and attach itself to another part of the station.
I saw that. I think that people can go and visit the centre. They can see this discovery, which has put Canada and Quebec's scientific community on the map, as they say, because this system will be used not only for repairs but to assemble all of the elements of the module. Canada's participation is therefore vital to the construction of the station.
I would also like to mention the role played by Quebecer Julie Payette in a research expedition in the international space station. She was the first Canadian to go there. Her particular contribution was important, since she was the head of the medical team, which obviously monitored the health and physical condition of the astronauts and which carried out very serious medical research.
Since the beginning of medical research in space, a number of treatments for diseases have been found, thus improving health. There are obviously a lot of questions about bone density and balance. In short, it is very important.
This project, which will span over 20 years, requires a $1.4 billion contribution by Canada. This may seem expensive, but the economic benefits are estimated at over $6 billion.
An investment that will yield such substantial economic benefits is a good investment. Overall, it will create 70,000 jobs, which is significant. This is one reason that motivated us, in the Bloc Quebecois, to support this bill. These jobs are not only in the province of Quebec, since, as I said, the Canadian Space Agency has divisions across the country. But Quebec is glad that the agency has its headquarters in Saint-Hubert.
We are not talking only about public servant or researcher jobs paid by the agency, but also about jobs in the private sector and for people who do research on a contractual basis or who try to apply research elements identified by the agency itself. The application aspect is very important and it also creates a lot of jobs.
There will be enormous economic and scientific benefits in our daily lives. Because of the financial limitations of a country with 30 million people, the space agency has decided to limit its activities to certain niches.
Besides the Canadarm and the mobile maintenance system I mentioned earlier, the agency has become a world leader in satellite communication. This is not necessarily related to this particular project, but the Canadian Space Agency developed RADARSAT, as well as other applications. Another project will be launched shortly, which will contribute further to the advancement of satellite communication. This means that soon someone in the Sahara desert will actually be able to speak on the phone with someone in Ottawa. They will be able to communicate. This is no small thing.
And that is not all. Those interested in geography can expect to see more accurate maps, because it will be possible to take shots to within approximately two metres from the ground. Agency representatives told us that the Russians and the Americans do not want it to be any closer, apparently for security reasons.
During my visit, I observed the seriousness of Agency employees, especially their pride when astronauts from around the world come to the training centre devoted solely to use of the Canadarm. All astronauts, whether they are Russian, American, European, or Japanese, come to Saint-Hubert regularly for training. This is great for the city of Saint-Hubert and for Quebec. It is also good for Canada.
I would now like to talk about what I think is the most important aspect of the civil international space station, and that is co-operation among various countries. These include Canada, the United States, Japan, Russia and European countries; others could join eventually.
The word “partnership” appears throughout the agreement. It is used very frequently. I think this is very important. This is a step forward for the advancement of aerospace science. This multilateral agreement has been quite a shot in the arm. Since the end of the cold war and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Russians have joined the expedition. I think this is good.
Speaking of history, this year the Canadian Space Agency, which has its headquarters in Saint-Hubert, is celebrating its tenth anniversary.
I will conclude on a political note. The word “partnership” crops up everywhere in this agreement. Canada has agreed to discuss an important agreement with other nations, but has said in advance that it is not interested in discussing partnership with Quebec. This government is prepared to talk with everyone except Quebec. That is how much this government seems to care about a wish expressed in 1995 by 49.6% of Quebecers.