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.