Madam Speaker, I will get to the bill. The hon. House leader of the government probably has some urgent business back in his riding that he must attend to and would like to see the House adjourn early today, it being Friday afternoon.
I wanted to describe as well, as a lot of my colleagues did when they gave their first speech, the riding that I am so pleased to represent and have represented now for seven years in the House of Commons.
The hon. government House leader might be interested to know that the riding of Prince George—Peace River is the only riding in Canada that actually straddles the Rocky Mountains. It is some 200,000 square kilometres in size. It is the eighth largest riding as far as geographic size is concerned. While it is difficult to get around in a riding so large, and certainly my hon. colleague from Skeena is well aware of the problems that are inherent in that, the reality is that it is enjoyable as well to represent a large rural riding. There are terrific grassroots, hard-working people from one end of the riding to the other.
I am very pleased and honoured, as I have been for the last seven years, to represent the people of Prince George—Peace River not only in the House of Commons, but also try to be a worthy representative of those people when I am out in the real world speaking on their behalf.
Bill S-2, the marine liability act, is a multifaceted bill that will finally legislate protection for Canadians travelling by water in a manner similar to the protection that has existed for decades in the aviation industry. Many Canadians have been waiting a very long time for the House to resolve that issue.
The reason I say that Canadians have been waiting a long time for the MLA is that this is its third incarnation. It has died on the order paper twice, the first time as Bill C-59, the carriage of passengers by water act, and the second time in October of last year. Both times were the as a result of a premature, unnecessary election call by the present Prime Minister. I am hopeful that the Minister of Transport and his government are serious about passing the legislation this time.
When we think about it, marine travel is one of the oldest modes of transportation in the world. One only needs to think of Samuel de Champlain, Eric the Red and Christopher Columbus to realize just how long we have been travelling the high seas. However, it is now the year 2001 and we are without comprehensive laws defining liability for those travelling and working in the shipping industry.
If one has spent any time in Vancouver or elsewhere on the west coast, one will appreciate the incredible volume of cruise ships that travel the Strait of Georgia and the inland waterways toward Alaska. The port of Vancouver alone handled over 800,000 cruise ship passengers just last year. The cruise industry has also grown on the east coast of Canada, with the ports of Halifax, Saint John and Quebec City showing considerable growth in cruise ship traffic.
On both coasts, greater numbers of people are taking to the water on ferries, whale watching ships, fishing boats and pleasure craft. It is hard to believe that these vessels and their millions of passengers operate without a legislative framework defining liability for damage to property, injury, loss of life and the economic and legal consequences of maritime accidents.
It is also hard to believe that the government opposite has allowed the bill, as I said earlier, to die twice on the order paper, leaving a void of liability in one of Canada's busiest modes of transportation. We are fortunate that the void in shipping liability does not extend to the protection of our coastlines and marine environment. We have had for some time legislation establishing civil liability for pollution from ships.
One of the merits of Bill S-2 is that it extracts these laws from the Canada Shipping Act and combines it with other relevant marine liability legislation into a single act.
We do, however, have concerns about whether the wording of the provisions for civil liability accurately reflect the intent of the legislation. The clause in the bill devoted to establishing civil liability for pollution from a ship deals with all types of pollution, yet the clause creating this liability itself speaks only of oil pollution. We believe that this clause requires closer examination to ensure that the marine environment is adequately protected from all sources of pollution.
The remaining pieces of legislation that found their way into the marine liability act included the Carriage of Goods by Water Act provisions for the limitation of liability and marine accidents and the Canada Shipping Act provisions for fatal accidents.
In addition to consolidating existing liability laws into a single reference, Bill S-2 also introduces two new liability regimes that are long overdue. I am referring to the rules regarding apportionment of liability and to the rules defining the liability of shipowners for the passengers they carry on their ships.
The introduction of rules for apportioning liability will finally bring the federal court up to speed with developments in the provincial court systems. The provincial courts have had rules regarding apportionment of a liability for years, but because marine claims are considered to be exclusively a federal jurisdiction, claimants and their families have been unable to rely on these rules when suing for compensation for injuries or in the case of the death of a family member.
As a result of this void in federal law, claimants have had to rely on antiquated common law principles. These laws provide that if the defendant can prove that the claimant contributed in any way to his or her injuries, awards would be forfeited. That is a very unjust and unacceptable situation. With the passing of this federal bill, courts will now have the ability to hold each party accountable for their actions. The percentage of liability will correspond with the percentage of fault.
I wish to illustrate this with an example. If a tour boat were to sink as the result of the captain's negligence and all the people on board wearing life jackets survived except the one individual who refused to wear a life jacket, the captain would be liable for the accident but not 100% liable for the loss of life. By refusing to wear the life jacket some liability would be assumed by the passenger and under the existing law he or she would not be entitled to any compensation. Clearly this is unacceptable and we are pleased to see that the government is finally taking steps to correct that situation.
Another new provision of the bill is the introduction of a system for establishing a shipowner's liability for commercial passengers. As I mentioned previously, it is unconscionable that a country which sees in excess of 40 million passengers carried by water each year does not have legislation protecting those passengers. While we are pleased to see the reintroduction of the passenger liability provisions, we do not believe that this protection goes far enough. Put simply, the limits are too low and there is no guarantee that the claimant will ever see the money.
The passenger liability section of the bill caps the maximum amount a shipowner will ever have to pay a claimant at $350,000, regardless of the extent or severity of his or her injuries. This is a result of basing our domestic legislation on an international agreement that has not been updated since 1990. I encourage the government to take the lead internationally on this issue and set limits that would provide real benefit to passengers injured in Canadian waters.
When comparing the amount of compensation available to passengers on ships, it is interesting to note that there is no limit for liability for passengers travelling by air.
Our other concern, and the most significant one, is that there is no requirement for shipowners to provide proof that they can meet their financial commitment to passengers after an accident. I believe this omission seriously undermines the entire premise of the legislation.
I urge the government to act quickly to establish an enforceable regulatory framework for issuing operating certificates and requiring proof compulsory insurance or financial responsibility.
The area of commercial shipping is not the only area of water activity where the government is not doing enough to protect Canadians. The government is very quick to assert its authority over all Canadian waters, including the lakes and rivers of the provinces, but it is very slow to develop policy relating to the use of those waters.
Here I would like to give a personal example. When I was a young man I was fortunate enough to be able to save enough money to purchase a boat for waterskiing. I learned to water ski at quite a young age. It is interesting to note that while I had to insure and license the trailer for the boat there was no requirement, other than a sort of convenience requirement, to register the boat itself.
My understanding is that this continues to this day, that there are a lot of boats for which the province or the federal government requires no registration. It is a matter of convenience. The view is that if the boat owner registers and gets a bow number for the boat, in the event of an accident or misuse of the boat the number would be helpful to the authorities in ascertaining the actual legitimate owner of the boat.
However, in many cases I have found that the new owner of a boat does not actually transfer that number with the registry of shipping for small watercraft. It is never transferred to the new owner. There are probably thousands, if not tens of thousands, of watercraft on our rivers and lakes that have never had their ownership transferred to the new owners. There is no real strong deterrent to force them to do so.
There is no requirement for insurance, none whatsoever, when one operates a small pleasure craft. It astounds me that this situation is allowed to continue.
By way of an example of that, one day we were waterskiing on the lake that is near my hometown of Fort Saint John. As is often the case when slaloming, if people are not used to starting out on one ski they start on two skis and drop one. At some point in time hopefully they can remember where the other ski is and go back and pick it up. On that particular day, we came back after the skier had finished. I was operating my boat. We picked up the ski, threw it up on the bow of the boat and took off. The wind caught the ski, flipped it and quite severely cut a friend of mine. He had to be taken to the hospital and get some stitches.
I was very fortunate that he was a good friend of mine. I was quite young at the time and was not worth a lot of money anyway, so even if he had not been a good friend and had decided to sue me for damages, I do not think he would have got a lot. That is the whole point of the story.