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House of Commons Hansard #128 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was transportation.

Topics

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

No doubt about it, Madam Speaker, that when I look at Bill S-17 it refers to fatal accidents, liability, compensation and damages. It refers to all those things. That member across the way may not like our reference to liability, compensation, fatal accidents and damage, but I will tell him a bit about compensation, damage, liability and fatal accidents.

I will tell the House what is a fatal accident. A fatal accident is that we have $4.5 billion of transportation tax money that is going to fund court challenges. Can we believe it? We have groups out there that are using taxpayer dollars to sue our government to get more taxpayer dollars.

That is what happens when money is taken from taxpayers on fuel and it is put into general revenue. It is a whole lack of priorities on transportation. The government takes that money and does not put it into roads, into ports, and into things that obviously have tangible benefits. Instead it sticks it into other things. I do not know how it can possibly argue its priorities.

We get prison golf courses. The government is using $4.5 billion taken in fuel taxes under the auspices of transportation on prison golf courses so that prisoners can play on the green. How does it justify that? How is that a priority?

It gets worse. The $4.5 billion are also used to pay for early parole, appeals. Prisoners use those taxpayer dollars to appeal for early parole. It is not bad enough that they get out when they do with light sentences and slaps on the wrist, but that $4.5 billion pay for early parole appeals.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have no idea what the member is talking about. This has nothing to do with the bill. I would ask the member either to speak to the subject or to leave the House. It is insulting to the House.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The hon. member must realize that there is a bill before the House that is important to his party and to other parties. I ask him to please try to keep to the bill.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Madam Speaker, I am speaking directly to that bill. I will talk about how it violates provincial jurisdiction and some of the other things the government does to violate the jurisdiction of the provinces.

My goodness, on transportation Alberta can speak only too well with regard to the national energy program which the government brought forward and the millions and billions of dollars it stripped out of the province of Alberta to cripple an industry that was crucial to transportation. I could go on. There is no problem if they want me to talk about transportation fallacies and what the government has done to help cripple transportation. I will do that gladly because I think the people need to hear it.

The money raised through transportation taxes funds things like ACOA vote buying. We heard questions in the House of Commons today on the very issue of a minister threatening and even taking money and pushing businesses into his riding. That is clear political manipulation. That is exactly what the bill is all about and that is exactly what we should not allow.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise once again on a point of order on the remarks of the member opposite who refuses to deal with Bill S-17. I thought the Alliance Party had come to parliament with the view that it would bring, in its mind, some civility and decorum. We have an example here of the exact opposite. The House is here to do a particular bit of business. I wish he would relinquish his time to other members who might wish to speak to Bill S-17.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I do not know how to convince the hon. member to please speak to the bill before the House. Obviously members of other parties all seem to agree that perhaps we are going a bit too far from the subject.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Madam Speaker, let us address the subject. This bill is attempting to update things since the 1950s and in the government's own kind of Liberal way.

Let us look at some of the things that have changed indeed since the 1950s in its own kind of Liberal way. Indeed pork barrelling existed before the 1950s and pork barrelling exists after the 1950s. It is still part and parcel, is it not?

We are talking today about changing the marine law. While we are at it, let us look at some of the other changes that are required in law and some of the other laws that the government is attempting to change.

The gun registry was originally supposed to cost only $2.2 million. Instead it is going to be costing over $500 million, nearly half a billion dollars. Where is the government getting that money from? It is getting it from transportation fuel taxes. It is taking it from the people who fill up at the pumps every single day in this country. The government is taking the people for $4.5 billion and using it to spend on things that will not keep criminals away from firearms but instead it will punish law abiding citizens.

Shame on the government. That is what transportation fuel taxes—

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I stayed here this afternoon to debate Bill S-17. I implore you to rule the member out of order. He is now talking about gun registration which has nothing whatsoever to do with this bill. The member is abusing the rules of the House. He should be called for that and should be told to shut up, leave the House or stick to the bill.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I do believe that the whole question of relevancy is a very important one in the House. I therefore urge the member to please debate Bill S-17.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Indeed, Madam Speaker, and now I am going to start talking about some of the other bills which have been passed with regard to transportation in other countries as they relate to this bill.

In 1998 the United States passed the Transportation Equity Act. It wanted to modernize its act to bring it to the 21st century, which is something that the government says it is trying to do with this bill. That bill was investing $217.9 billion over six years into infrastructure, a large portion of which will go into roads connecting its borders to Canada and Mexico. The bill would legislatively guarantee that a minimum of 90.5% of federal fuel tax receipts from each state are returned to each state.

If we only had that type of vision and commitment on that side of the House with regard to transportation taxes, where the government would be willing commit even 50% of the money it raises in transportation taxes and put it toward transportation. In the United States 90% of the money raised in transportation taxes goes toward those states to help out in transportation. Shame on this government.

I will talk about another issue with regard to transportation. That is the revenue collected by the federal government for aviation fuel which goes into general revenues. It is bad enough that the government is taking $4.5 billion in transportation fuel taxes from taxpayers, which is more than what it puts into transportation.

We not only have people who drive cars, we also have planes. The revenue collected by the federal government for aviation fuel also goes into general revenues. It does not go toward improving our airports. It is only a pittance that is returned to the airports through the capital assistance programs.

That is just another example of the billions of dollars the government collects from various industries that are our base economy. Instead the money goes toward other things that the government thinks are more important.

While we are talking about transportation and fuel taxes, I want to talk about a tax on a tax, where the government collects GST on top of fuel excise taxes. That is supposed to be out of the ballpark. It is absolutely wrong to place a tax upon a tax but that is exactly what the government has done.

It promised in 1993 that it would overhaul it and get rid of the tax on tax. It is not bad enough that it has taken billions of dollars out of transportation and fuel taxes and has not spent those dollars on transportation. It then goes ahead and takes another tax, the GST, and heaps it on top of that. As a result, it becomes even worse. It piles money hand over fist into the general revenue fund to use on things other than transportation.

What does the government use it on? It uses it to buy goodies. Where does it buy those goodies? It buys some of those goodies in the Prime Minister's riding. Some of the transportation fuel taxes are going into the Prime Minister's riding, They are not going into roads, ports, airports, improving the integrity of our roads, enhance traveller safety or economic viability but instead to buy votes.

When we address issues of transportation, like Bill S-17 which originated in the the Senate, it is because we want to improve transportation. It might be argued that the government might be doing something with regard to transportation in the prairies because the farmers are having problems transporting their grain. However, rather than allow the farmers some leeway, what does it do, it puts them in shackles. We are paying.

For the average folks back home who are watching, when they buy gas at the pumps, they pay tax on that gas which goes to the federal government. Some of that tax money is being used to put farmers in shackles because they want to sell their grain outside the wheat board. Shame on the government. That money could have gone to transportation. It could have been a dedicated fuel tax but it is not. Shame on them.

I could go on with all sorts of other things that the government has been wasting and squandering committed fuels taxes on but it basically boils down to this. We have a government that is elitist, out of touch and that is tax and spend. That is exactly what is going on. When the government takes in over $4.7 billion in dedicated fuel taxes and spends over $4.5 billion or 96% of that on things other than transportation, we know that is out of touch. We know it is top-down. We do not doubt for a second that it is taxing 100% and spending 96% on other things. If that is not tax and spend I do not know what is. Shame on it for doing that type of thing, especially considering it made all those election promises about taxes in 1993 and it has indeed raised them. It is a shame.

Let us look at some of the things that other countries are doing to improve their situations in transportation, things that Canada should be looking at. Canada should be looking to improve its situation on trade barriers but instead we have trade barriers that exist between provinces. One of the trade barriers that we have to deal with is between us and our major trading, the United States. Our tax levels are so much higher than our American counterparts that we are driving businesses south. Even today in question period we had a minister who was asked about trying to drive a business around his riding so that he could benefit from jobs there. It is a pretty clear case of pork barrelling.

Instead, the government could be focusing its attention on some of the blatant tax problems and the lack of fairness that exists. It could focus on keeping businesses, which hire employees, provide jobs and tax revenue, in Canada rather than have them leave and go elsewhere.

We have countries like Iceland, Australia, the United States, and the list goes on, that have taxes far lower than ours. Instead of addressing the tax levels, trying to lower taxes and dedicating fuel taxes, we have a whole liability act coming forward that will hamper our competitiveness because there is a total lack of priorities.

If the government was focused on the idea of taxes, on the idea of cutting taxes and on dedicating fuel taxes, then we would have a spitting chance of being able to do better in terms of competitiveness. Instead it helps to drive jobs out of the country.

We know we have a brain drain going on. Members do not want to admit it over there but their lack of priorities have helped to exacerbate that problem and make it worse. Friends of mine are going to the United States and other countries around the world to find work because they cannot it here or because the tax levels are too high. It drives them and their families out of the country.

I could go on with regard to Bill S-17 but I will wrap it up with this. Bill S-17, the marine liability act, centralizes a lot of pieces of legislation. It fits with the whole idea of a centralized, authoritarian, top-down structure that the government seems to like so much. On top of that, it is falling in line with what the supreme court wants. Once again the government is stepping on the toes of provincial jurisdictions. Once again it is failing to address the real issue of competitiveness, which is the true liability, and which is its record on taxes.

The fact is that 96% of the money raised from fuel taxes should be going to transportation and it is not. It is going to a lot of other things. It is going for vote buying for the upcoming election.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans, QC

Madam Speaker, I must tell you how flabbergasted I am by your exceedingly broad understanding and very considerable tolerance in connection with the rule on the relevance of speeches in force here in the House. With all due respect, I would hope that it is tolerance and not a matter of looking the other way. I am weighing my words. I do not know whether the ability to discuss matters of questionable relevance to the main subject should be seen as a precedent in this House.

I would be tempted to start off with a long diatribe to the effect that I could blame the government, but I will come quickly to the content of this bill on the implementation of this international treaty. I simply want to say that I too deplore the government's decision to introduce this bill in the other House. It is called Bill S-17 because it was introduced in the Senate, the other House.

I think that the 301 members of this House would have done a worthy job, and the government House leader could have easily introduced this bill in the House of Commons, especially since the legislative calendar is rather empty in this pre-election period.

That said, clause 107 of part 7 of Bill S-17 confirms the application of a tariff for those governed by the Laurentian pilotage authority.

I want to take this opportunity to tell the House that the Bloc Quebecois remains aware and concerned and wants to pay tribute to the work done by the marine pilots, especially those in the Lower St. Lawrence and central Quebec. The St. Lawrence River is a complex waterway.

These pilots have been battling for more than 30 years now for the survival of their profession. We know that the shipowners' lobby in Canada is a very powerful one. Why does this lobby have so much power over the government? One need only to look at the campaign contributions by the major shipping companies to understand very clearly why this lobby is so influential and why it has the government's ear so readily.

A preliminary remark on this bill is that it implements in clause 107 application of a Laurentian pilotage charge. I must also, because their annual meeting ended this week, greet the members of the Canadian Marine Pilots' Association, whose president is also the head of the International Maritime Pilots' Association. This is the first time that a Canadian, and a francophone Quebecer to boot, has been the president of the international association. He is Michel Pouliot, a resident of Saint-Jean, Île-d'Orléans. As I said, the Canadian Marine Pilots' Association held its annual meeting this week.

We know that implementation of an international treaty is an important matter. It is one that involves us all because treaties are becoming increasingly important instruments in international life. Their numbers are multiplying. Hundreds of treaties are concluded every year, and are ratified by Canada and other countries. First and foremost, an international treaty is a legal instrument that has been negotiated. Negotiations may involve public servants or ambassadors, heads of state, or ministers representing heads of state. There can also be negotiations with international organizations. Often these international organizations are the forum in which such negotiations take place.

For example, the framework of the United Nations organization often serves as a forum or organizes the holding of conferences at which treaties are debated and agreed to.

Depending on the constitutional law of the country, treaties sometimes require action by parliament to permit their acceptance by the country, so that the country can agree to be bound by the treaty. Practices may differ significantly from one country to the next. Here in Canada, a government can conclude a treaty and sign it after it has been adopted. It can even ratify it without parliament's prior approval or agreement that the country will be bound under the international treaty.

There are countries, however, that involve their parliament and can neither sign nor ratify—in most cases it is ratification—a treaty without the prior approval of parliament and the holding of a debate to give parliamentarians an opportunity to consider the text of the treaty and its provisions before the government commits internationally. In France, for example, parliament must adopt an act approving any treaty before the French authorities can ratify it.

In parliamentary systems such as ours, but also that of other countries, there is a real lack of democracy in that parliamentarians are asked to adopt laws whose content is largely determined by the content of treaties negotiated by the governments, even though their parliaments were not involved in the discussions on that content.

I want to make this clear. Our role as an assembly of parliamentarians is to adopt laws. Canada signs treaties in other places and we, duly and democratically elected parliamentarians, are not called upon to review or examine the content of the treaty before its ratification. However, we are called upon to pass enacting legislation. This is why I was saying earlier that Canada is suffering from a real democratic deficit.

My colleague, the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, who is listening to me carefully at the moment, introduced Bill C-214. Unfortunately, this bill was defeated in the House in the spring of this year by the Liberals.

Bill C-214, introduced by my colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry, provided for the House of Commons to be involved in the process for concluding treaties by giving a treaty prior approval and thereby authorizing the government to ratify a treaty after the House had examined the content of it.

This provision is interesting because, in a democracy, in our British parliamentary system, the party electing the most members forms the government.

This is recognized as a prerogative of the government. It is also recognized that, even if these treaties are submitted to the House for its consideration before their passage, approval of them rests ultimately with the government.

What about valid and often non-partisan suggestions The government could recognize this. My colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, recognizes that we in the Bloc Quebecois and probably other opposition MPs have made valid contributions to the debate in the past.

In the past we have succeeded in convincing members of the Liberal majority of the merits of what we were saying and bringing about amendments. Will the government admit that it does not have a monopoly on intelligence? Will the government admit that its way is not the only way? Will the government admit that democratically elected members from both sides of the House can make an interesting contribution to the debate?

I will just give one example, from my riding. I had introduced Bill C-205—I hope that no one is going to raise the issue of relevance, because I do not want this to backfire on me and the tables to be turned—I just want to remind the House that I had introduced a bill to allow mechanics to deduct the cost of their tools. There are mechanics, automobile technicians and garages in all 301 of Canada's ridings. They are everywhere.

I set out on a pilgrimage to convince members of all parties, and was so successful that, despite the reluctance of the Minister of Finance, who was opposed to my bill, the result of the vote at second reading was 218 in favour, i.e. the vast majority, and 11 Liberal members against.

When someone comes up with something that makes sense, something that transcends party lines, I assume that we are all operating on good faith here.

Of course, we all have our convictions. I ask the hon. member to respect me, with my strengths and weaknesses, but also with my convictions. I am not about to change allegiance, the Holy Spirit is not about to descend upon me and turn me into a federalist overnight, because my convictions are too strong.

Some colleagues here—the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead is one—are convinced, for reasons of political opportunism, that their chances of being re-elected are better with the Liberals. Anyway, democracy will have its say and the voters of Compton—Stanstead will realize that. I am sure that when the next election comes, they will re-elect a member of parliament like Gaston Leroux of the Bloc Quebecois to represent them.

I have to say that federal could very readily accommodate expansion of the provinces' ability to enter into treaties. This could involve Quebec, Alberta or British Columbia. Inspiration could even be taken from what is done in Belgium in connection with formulas for the ratification of treaties by parliaments.

This is a partial explanation of why my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois, and many Quebecers, want sovereignty, which will give them jurisdiction over their own treaties and will involve their parliament, that is the national assembly, in their implementation. The national assembly will be the one to approve treaties before they become law.

In conclusion, I wanted, through my very brief comments, to say that the Bloc Quebecois will support this bill at second reading. We will not systematically oppose it. However, we would like the government to take into account what I mentioned earlier regarding the implementation of international treaties, to take into account the situation that I illustrated to correct operational problems that have been going on for too many years. We will therefore support Bill S-17.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today on behalf of the New Democratic Party to speak to Bill S-17.

I have been listening to the debate and I must say I was very taken aback by the very outrageous comments of the member for Calgary West. His comments on the bill were as bizarre and outrageous as his assault on bilingualism and the comments he made about whether or not new Canadians have a right to vote in nomination meetings.

We have to question what the member is debating. I wonder if the member for Calgary West has talked to the Alliance member from Surrey Central who has lived in Canada for maybe three years and is now an MP. Today's debate is about Bill S-17. The comments of the member for Calgary West were out of order and had nothing to do with it.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I do not believe the member for Calgary West has opened his mouth today in the House. I think the member has the wrong riding.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am afraid that is not a point of order.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I believe the member for Calgary West was in the House earlier. I may have the wrong riding, but I believe it was the member for Calgary West.

Bill S-17 is probably not the most high profile piece of legislation before the House. It certainly is not the most glamorous. Probably very little attention is being paid to it. Nevertheless the marine liability act is an important piece of legislation. Members of the New Democratic Party have some concerns at this point in the debate but will be supporting the legislation.

Marine legislation is very fragmented. It now falls within a number of different acts over many years. Many of the acts are outdated. They are certainly not in line with current processes and international law or the kind of legislation enjoyed by other countries. It is very important that we are debating marine legislation today.

My riding of Vancouver East contains a very large chunk of the port of Vancouver. As someone coming from the west coast, marine legislation is something that I recognize is of great importance. Members in my caucus, including the member for Halifax West, the member for Dartmouth and all other members from Nova Scotia, have placed a great amount of emphasis on the need for marine legislation, particularly in terms of creating a shipbuilding capacity in Canada. We have had a long and very rich tradition in Canada of a marine industry, of building ships, of creating jobs.

I want to say for myself from the west coast and my colleagues from the east coast that this is something we think is very key to who we are as Canadians, that is, to improve upon our capacity to produce economic wealth, prosperity and benefits from our shipbuilding industry.

The legislation before us today, although it does not deal specifically with a need for shipbuilding, does cover some important areas that need to be dealt with.

Bill S-17 seeks to unify under this piece of legislation the various bits and pieces that have been fragmented over the years. It attempts to modernize these laws and to keep Canada in line with international conventions. This is something we certainly support. It is not only generating new legislation. It is making sure that the legislation already in place is relevant and up to date and that it deals with the concerns we have today.

Bill S-17, as I have said, covers many areas that are already enshrined in law. These include, for example, the limitation of liability for maritime claims, the liability and compensation for pollution and the liability for carriage of goods by water. These laws are generally now re-enacted in this bill with some minor changes to incorporate international conventions and supreme court decisions.

There are other aspects of the bill that will also be clarified and these are certainly things that have been outstanding and needed attention. We are very glad to see that they have been addressed in this bill. They have to deal with personal injuries and fatalities.

There is no question that the experience and the evidence has shown that at the present time under the existing legislation, which is now very updated, there is a lot of confusion that can arise because there is a very ambiguous and blurred line between federal and provincial legislation and responsibilities. This has obviously caused a lot of problems. The area of federal-provincial jurisdiction is something that we struggle with in this country. It is something that we need to address through legislation. It is positive to note that this bill will end what has been a confusing circumstance in terms of federal and provincial responsibilities.

If the bill is passed, clear outlines will be set regarding the relatives of those who die as a result of marine accidents in terms of the claims they can make and to whom. For everyone in the House, just on the basis of common decency and respecting what happens to people when they have lost someone close to them, a member of their family, in some sort of marine accident, to have a procedure that is efficient, humane, respectful and understandable is something that is very important.

We are very pleased to see that this now has been included in the legislation and that it will help people who are faced with these kinds of tragedies and accidents. God knows we have all had experiences of having to deal with a bureaucracy after someone has had a serious accident or has died. We know what it is like to have to go through the paperwork and make the claims. It can be a very difficult thing to do when you are in a grieving process.

The fact that this legislation will bring some clarity to the matter is an improvement. It hopefully will help those family members who are dealing with a very difficult circumstance as a result of someone who has died or who may have been in an accident.

Another important aspect of the bill and, in fact, probably one of the more critical things, which may not have gotten a lot of attention, is that Bill S-17 will also prohibit shipowners from contracting out liability for loss of life or personal injury.

The current practice, one used for many years, is that within Canada it is very common for shipowners to insert a clause into contracts of carriage that removes the shipowner's liability. What does that mean? What has been the impact of that?

It reminds me very much of the situation we faced with the Westray mine disaster, an example of corporate responsibility that was completely without consequences because there was not any clear legislation to say that individual corporate executives and the corporation itself are liable for their negligence and for the people they put at risk. As members of the House know, members of the New Democratic Party have been a very powerful force, along with members from other parties, in bringing forward legislation to say that corporate executives and corporations must be held criminally responsible for any negligence or any criminal act.

This particular feature in Bill S-17 addresses this same kind of principle. It clearly talks about the kind of contracting out that took place in the past. Let us imagine trying to contract out one's liability, saying “It is not really mine as a shipowner. I will pass the buck to someone else. I will pass on the responsibility to someone else”. Again, the fact that the bill will remove that kind of situation is an improvement.

In this day and age we are in an environment that is increasingly dominated by multinational corporations, by huge organizations that are in some instances nameless and faceless. The sense of corporate responsibility and the sense of accountability for people who are trying to deal with the system are sometimes very far removed. In this respect this one particular clause in the bill is a move in the right direction in saying that there must be corporate social responsibility, that the idea of hiding oneself behind a third party will not fly any more.

These exemptions, for example, are already null and void in the United States, France and Great Britain. There is no question that we should not be left behind on this issue. Canada must act on this matter now because we do not know when a disaster may occur. We have to be prepared. We have to make sure that legislation is in place that clearly protects victims and families of marine accidents and clearly shows the lines of responsibility in terms of where wrongdoing has taken place.

I have spoken on aspects of the bill that we support. We think there are improvements, but it is only fair to say that we also have concerns. It is appropriate to lay those on the table and to be clear that we also have some questions about the bill. As the bill proceeds through the House, we would like to see some answers.

There is one clause that certainly does concern us. After some research and some questioning of Transport Canada bureaucrats by our caucus, we have not really found any of the answers we are looking for. We are very concerned with the fact that the bill would prevail over the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act if there were any inconsistencies or conflicts between the two.

Whilst we are willing to support the bill at second reading, I want to say that members of the New Democratic Party and our critic in this area, the member for Churchill, want further answers in committee. We want to know how the bill might affect important environmental legislation and we want to know what the various scenarios and possibilities are. We want to be assured that the bill will not override very important environmental protection in other legislation that exists.

In conclusion, members of the New Democratic Party feel generally positive about the bill. We think it is an improvement over what we have now. It will be a piece of legislation that captures together the bits and pieces and the patchwork of existing provisions. It will modernize the provisions for protection around liability. It will clearly outline better corporate responsibility, which we think is important, and it will give better protection to those who travel by marine vessels or who are involved with them.

We therefore support the bill in principle but with the caveat that if the government is concealing some answers in terms of the concerns we have about other environmental and protection legislation, then of course we will look at the bill again and not be so accepting. However, at this point we support it in principle.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I rose on a point of order before before to correct the member on the name of the riding. I was wrong and I apologize. She was in fact correct. I am sorry.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure to rise in debate on the marine liability act.

In my case, I come from a province which is virtually surrounded by water, the province of Nova Scotia. We often think that as a country that is itself almost surrounded by water and certainly has a lot of inland waterways as well as the oceans, we are past due on legislation with respect to marine transportation, marine liability and all marine issues, including environmental issues, shipbuilding policies, and even the question about fuel taxes for shipping.

It seems that the legislation we have is past due and is behind that of many other countries that are as involved with marine issues as Canada. In fact, the bill is just responding to our commitment under the Athens convention of 1974 to meet international standards on liability for marine accidents and also to the updated 1990 protocol. It is certainly long past due, especially for a country such as ours that is so involved with marine aspects.

In my own case it is really obvious that this is becoming more and more important because of the increasing economic activity on our waters, even the increase in the use of ferries from our different provinces and islands, not only in regard to the volume and numbers of ferries but also now that we are getting into high speed ferries and that sort of new technology, which creates problems in itself. It also creates a concern about liability for marine issues.

Tourism is becoming a big issue on the waters as well. Some of our smaller fishing villages along our coastlines have seen their fish stocks decline and the fishing industry decline along with that. They have now turned to tourism, which includes tour boats, whale watching ventures and things like that. All these ventures currently are not well protected for marine liability as far as our legislation goes.

People who use these types of boats for both the carriage of people and the carriage of goods and services are not well protected. The liability is very confusing. Shipowners and boat owners can include exemptions to their liability on tickets. Whether they are effectual or not and whether they are actual or not is open to question. There is no clarification. The bill clarifies that and we support that part of it.

A part of our economy that is exploding on both the east and west coasts is certainly cruise ships. Up until now there has been confusion on liability in the event that there is a serious accident involving death or injury. The bill will address that issue and that is long past due.

Even ecotourism in my own area is becoming more and more viable as the demand increases and tourists from all over the world come to eastern Canada to see different aspects of our ocean life: whales, porpoises, seals, bird life, and recently even a small island in the Bay of Fundy near my riding called Ile Haute that we are hoping the Minister of the Environment will designate as a wilderness preserve. He has indicated a strong interest in doing that. If he does, it will create a whole new tourism industry in my riding. It will involve boats carrying passengers to see this incredible island in the Bay of Fundy.

It is extremely important that the issue is dealt with. There are many aspects of the bill that we support but we do not understand why there has been a delay in getting the bill to this point. We go back to several aspects of other bills in the last parliament, such as Bill C-59, the carriage of passengers by water act, which was allowed to die on the order paper in April 1997. The same terms of reference in that bill are in the new bill. This is three years later and ironically we are perhaps at the same stage now where this bill may die on the order paper if an election is called, as is speculated in the next few weeks.

In the last parliament another bill, Bill C-73, an act to amend the Canada Shipping Act, died on the order paper. It had the same terms and conditions as we have in this one. It died because of an early election in 1997. Here we are three and a half years later dealing with exactly the same words, exactly the same bill, and maybe facing another election so that it may die on the order paper again.

When we form the government next time we will bring it in and we will put it through. We will not allow any more delays, any more inappropriate stalls for this bill, because it is very important.

There are aspects of the bill we do not support but we do support most of them. We support the bill in principle. It is long overdue. As I said before, it basically lines us up with the international convention adopted in 1974 in Athens and the protocol. We need a Canada marine law and this helps us in that regard.

Some of the aspects we like is that it confirms that claims for wrongful death and injury in the maritime domain may be made against persons as well as ships under the bill, thus enabling relatives of deceased and injured persons to claim for loss of care, guidance and companionship.

It also modernizes the language of the legislation to make it clearer and allows people to proceed through courts a lot quicker in the case of litigation.

Another part we support is the fact that it incorporates word for word into the new marine liability act the Hague rules statute under the Carriage of Goods by Water Act, which again should have been included a long time.

It establishes the basis for amounts of liability. There are different acts that deal with this issue and the present legislation is very confusing. In some cases shipowners can limit their own liability by a simple statement of exemption, and this would eliminate that.

Another aspect is that the bill excludes the contracting out of liability by shipowners and operators, especially in marine passenger contracts. Recently I followed up on a ticket I bought which had an exemption on it. It turned out that the shipowner had contracted out the tour I was on. They tried to confuse the situation by stating that if there were in effect an accident they would be hidden and protected from liability. In any case, this prevents shipowners from escaping that liability by any exclusionary clause they want to dream up.

Bill S-17 incorporates liability aspects of the 1974 Athens convention and the protocol, as I said earlier. We do have questions about liability still remaining, especially with respect to the environment and some aspects of those issues.

We expect it to come to the transport committee and be thoroughly examined. We expect to have representation from Department of Transport officials and representatives from the industry to help us understand the pros and cons of the bill. At that time we will make our final decision, but at the moment we support the bill in principle. We think it is long past due. We hope that the government will make sure the bill is not dropped from the order paper again this time as it was in 1997 and that the bill goes through.

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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to make two points if I may about the legislation. First, this is legislation that is introduced from the Senate. I think Canadians who are watching the debate here need an explanation of why a bill should be appearing before the House at second reading that has emanated from the Senate rather than following the normal procedure of first reading in the Commons and second reading as we are now.

There is reason for concern because the Senate, the other place, comprises an unelected chamber. The senators are not answerable to the people. We must pause as parliamentarians and as all Canadians when we see a bill coming from the Senate. If legislation is coming from people who are not elected then we need to be very concerned that this is the proper procedure. I am absolutely opposed to bills coming from the Senate that are private members' bills.

However, in this instance this is not a private member's bill coming from the Senate. This is a government bill that has been introduced in the Senate. As the member for Cumberland—Colchester just remarked, the bill is essentially a piece of legislation that was before the last parliament and died on the order paper with the calling of the general election in 1997.

We have here an instance where the Senate can fulfil an important role. That role is to expedite non-controversial legislation that is very much in the public interest which might otherwise experience considerable delay as it falls behind, shall we say, more politically pressing government legislation if it were to be introduced at first reading and follow the normal procedure in the House of Commons.

When I say politically pressing, I am not in any way suggesting that this is not very important legislation. Bill S-17, or Bill C-53 as it was known before, actually addresses an area of concern that is really crucial to Canadians. Indeed, as I was looking through the actual text of the legislation I was amazed to think the type of protection we are talking about here does not exist in law already.

What we are dealing with is the idea that when people buy tickets and board ships in this country with Canadian ownership they basically have no protection if disaster overtakes the ship and they lose their lives or are otherwise injured. The regime that exists now is that people who find themselves in this situation are forced to go to the courts and use common law procedures in order to recover damages.

This legislation sets up a regime where the shipowners are required to have insurance and where there is a personal liability regime put in place for people who wish to travel by sea or, I should say, by our freshwater lakes.

Coming back to my point about the Senate, this is important legislation. One of the difficulties is that the government and politicians in general do tend to be responsive to the political pressures of the day that might be forthcoming. I will give a classic example.

We are expecting legislation in the House very soon pertaining to the implementation of the national health accord that was just struck between the Prime Minister and the premiers of the various provinces. This has to do with our national health and the ability of our hospitals to provide decent services. This has to do with the amount of money that comes from the federal government and is transferred to the provinces. This is a politically urgent bill.

The sad thing about the way this parliament operates, and this is not a criticism of the way this parliament operates but is a reality, is that politically urgent bills sometimes take priority over bills that are less politically urgent but are nevertheless just as important. This is the case with the marine liability bill.

Because the legislation has gone before the Senate I think the Senate has had an opportunity to examine it in detail. I do not expect, certainly not in the debate we have before us now, that any members are going to be raising really controversial issues with respect to this legislation. Not in this debate. This is one of the advantages of having it begin in the Senate.

As the member for Cumberland—Colchester said, it will go to the transportation committee where it will get a thorough examination as would any other bill coming through the normal process in the House of Commons.

Having said that and having lauded the procedure that I am told goes back to Confederation, this is not unusual for the government to introduce legislation in the Senate in this way. It gives me an opportunity to stress how much I am absolutely opposed to bills coming from the Senate that are introduced by senators themselves.

I have a specific bill in mind, and that is the current bill coming from the Senate called Bill S-20, that reflects a senator's initiative with respect to trying to impose an extra tax on cigarettes in order to raise money to finance advertising campaigns to lower the incidence of youth smoking. I am sure that is laudable but it is very wrong for senators to introduce controversial bills when they do not have to answer to an electorate as any one of the members of this place have to do.

I want to make sure that the Canadian public out there realizes that what is happening here with Bill S-17 is something that is fully in conformity with the rights and privileges of elected representatives in this place. It does not reflect what may be happening with respect to this bill coming from the Senate.

Coming back to the marine liability legislation very briefly, as the member for Cumberland—Colchester spoke very well on the issue, many Canadians have taken car ferries within Canadian waters. Many Canadians have taken ships to England or even cruises on the western shores of this wonderful land of ours. Many of them would be appalled to realize that they have not been covered properly, as they would see it, by insurance. This is legislation that is not only timely but overdue.

I will make one other very important point that was alluded to by the member for Cumberland—Colchester. That is the business of shipowners providing an exemption of liability on the ticket. Basically they purport to contract out their liability if an accident overtakes the passenger who bought the ticket.

The problem with that is that it lets the shipowner off the hook. For all the person buying the ticket knows, the insurance company that has taken the liability contract may be a fly-by-nighter and disappear overnight. It is really no kind of protection at all. This legislation, in addressing that and in requiring shipowners to have liability insurance in the first place, is very progressive legislation.

I second the sentiments of the member for Cumberland—Colchester. We should expedite this legislation as quickly as possible, certainly at this stage of debate, get it into committee and get it passed. I can assure him the he has nothing to worry about. I am fully confident this bill will pass this time well in advance of the next general election call.

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1:40 p.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Madam Speaker, I applaud the hon. member for suggesting that the other place should not be the originator of government bills. That is a commendable point. I also recognize that member is more amenable than most to the idea that the other place should have serious measures of accountability.

Would the hon. member expound more on his idea that the other place, namely the Senate, should not be the originator of government bills, and maybe how he feels about the whole idea of Senate elections and accountability in that place?

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for the question but he misunderstood me just slightly. I find no fault with the fact that the government has introduced this bill in the Senate first where it has been examined and has come back because the Senate has had a chance to examine the bill in detail. It is still a government bill. The government is elected by the people and the government is initiating the bill. Whether it is initiated in this place or that place does not matter; it is still accountable to the people because it is the government.

What I am very strongly opposed to is senators introducing their own private members' bills in the Senate and those bills coming to this place as private members' legislation. Senators are not answerable to the public. The difficulty is that they can introduce controversial bills.

I remember one senator once proposing something about making it against the law to spank a child. All kinds of controversy was endured by Liberal members of parliament because it was a Liberal senator that introduced this idea. This is not a proper reflection of either the Senate's role or the way this place should be working in my view.

With Bill S-17, I think probably the best way to have expedited this very important legislation was to have done exactly what the government did and that was to introduce it in the Senate first. We have a full chance to examine it here.

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1:45 p.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his clarification on his position with regard to the introduction of private members' bills in the Senate. He mentioned that there is some measure of accountability lacking in the Senate, I agree with him on that. I wonder if he might be able to offer suggestions from his side of the benches with regard to ways to improve the accountability in the Senate

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1:45 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I take this question very seriously because I know the member is very interested in the future of the Senate. The Senate has an enormously important role in parliament but it has to be a role that does not collide with the role being fulfilled by the elected portion of Parliament.

Where the Senate is very valuable is it has more time, particularly on private members' legislation, to examine indepth the implications of legislation. The particular legislation that we have before us, Bill S-17, previously Bill C-53, is very complicated. The average member in this House does not have the time to give it the examination it deserves.

Even the transportation committee is going to have difficulty giving it the full examination it deserves. That is what we can use the Senate for and that is the role the Senate should have.

However, the Senate must not, this government must not and this House of Commons must not allow the Senate to intrude into those areas of responsibility that should be exclusively the role of the elected representatives. We are accountable to the people.

I introduced just recently a very controversial private members' bill that would make Christmas into a national holiday. I got 400 hostile e-mails. Well, that is correct because I take the brunt of the fact that I introduced legislation that certainly some members of the public oppose and they can get at me. However, they cannot get at a senator.

If the government wishes to introduce a bill through the Senate, it does not matter to the Senate but the government is still accountable. If a senator introduces his own legislation and does not have to answer for it but we do, I think that is wrong.

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1:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is the House ready for the question?

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1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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1:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?