He is still my friend and that is quite remarkable. I thank the hon. government House leader for his interventions. It certainly keeps the debate a bit more lively and keeps me on track.
The point of the story is that today in Canada, with the situation of small pleasure craft not being required to be properly licensed and insured, if someone is injured or is fatally injured and dies, there is no way other than civil litigation in which to sue the owner of the boat for damages if it is proven that he or she was operating the craft in a negligent way. One never knows if that person has any net worth to make it worthwhile suing.
It seems to me that there is something wrong with that. In every other mode of transportation in Canada, there is a requirement that the operator be licensed and insured, either federally or provincially. What is it that makes watercraft so special that they are exempt from these concepts?
I encourage the government to bring in legislation that would grant the provinces the ability to regulate recreational boaters. It is time that we recognized that Sea-Doos should be treated equally to Ski-Doos and that yachts are no different from cars when it comes to responsible and safe operation.
I would be remiss if I did not express that we take exception to the fact that the bill originated in the other place. I note that this is the second time the bill originated in that other place and that during this session the Senate gave first, second and third reading to the bill in a single day. I also note that the bill is not identical to Bill S-17, the previous incarnation that was introduced.
In the previous version of the bill there were provisions in part 1 dealing with the relationship of dependency that could not be defined because the matter was under debate in this House. This is a prime example of why this place is the only place where it is acceptable for legislation to originate and to be debated, amended and voted on.
Had the previous version been introduced in this House, it would have been debated after the debate on dependency had been concluded. This would have ensured that the bill would have been passed correctly the first time and would not have required amendment after the fact, as it were.
I understand the rationale behind utilizing the other place when this House is congested with business, but at the beginning of a session, indeed, at the beginning of a parliament, I do not feel that this is the case.
The fact is that this House is the only one with elected representatives who are accountable to their constituents. The other place lacks the legitimacy, credibility and accountability to serve as the originator of government legislation. Until such time as the other place is true triple E—elected, equal and effective—my colleagues and I will be opposed to its intervention in legislative matters prior to their consideration in this Chamber.
The majority of marine industries affected by this legislation support it, as do the majority of the provinces. The sole exception is Quebec, which believes the bill interferes in provincial jurisdiction.
Earlier in my remarks I addressed the official opposition's concerns with the bill. Although these concerns are serious, it is our intention to support this legislation at second reading.
I am pleased to sum up by saying that we will be supporting this legislation. I look forward to other interventions from my colleagues about this legislation as they point out whatever they feel are the flaws or the attributes of the legislation.
I also look forward to having the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations deal with the legislation. I suspect it will be the first legislation referred to the standing committee once we pass it at second reading. In that light I must relay a concern that I have in regard to the inaugural meeting of the standing committee on transport, which occurred just yesterday.
I need to explain something to the viewing audience, the people out in the real world, because they probably will not be able to make the connection as to why what I am about to relate to them should be of importance to them.
At an inaugural meeting of a standing committee a number of things take place. The clerk takes the chair initially until such time as a chairman is chosen by the committee. I have no dispute with the fine gentleman who spoke just before me and who has been acclaimed as the chairman of the standing committee on transport. Likewise, there are two vice-chair positions and two individuals are elected to fill those roles.
A number of other procedural things take place at the inaugural meeting, one of which is what I want to discuss right now for a few moments. It is the matter of time allocated for questioning witness who appear before the committee. A motion was put forward yesterday at the standing committee for transport which basically suggested that after a witness appears before the committee and makes a presentation, there will be questions—as at all committees—but the time allocated to the parties to question the witnesses will be equal.
In other words, the original motion was that it would start with the Canadian Alliance, the official opposition, for 10 minutes of questioning, then go to the government, the Liberals, for 10 minutes, and then to the other three parties, the Bloc Quebecois, the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservatives, each for 10 minutes.
If that had been allowed to stand, it is very easy to see that on one front people watching on television might think it is fair, because there are five recognized political parties in the House of Commons and they would all receive 10 minutes to question a witness. I respect the fact that committees are a power unto themselves and they decide, but I think it is important that we relate these types of stories to the Canadian electorate so that it understands what takes place.
The reality is that on any committee on which I have served there was some balance for the representation in the House of Commons. In other words, if the government is a majority and has over 50% of the seats in the House of Commons, legitimately it has a larger number of people serving on the committee, seven or eight members versus three for the Canadian Alliance, a couple for the Bloc Quebecois and one each for the two smaller parties.
There is a fairness aspect. If there are seven or eight members of the Liberal Party sitting on that committee and participating, and they all have to share, as in this case, a 10 minute spot to ask questions, it stands to reason that many of them would not get to ask even one question of a witness on behalf of their constituents. I think that is unfair.
The original motion was defeated. I voiced that objection on the part of both the Liberal government and the Canadian Alliance: that if that motion were allowed to go forward it would be unfair to the parties that have the largest number of people or the largest representation in the House of Commons. It was defeated, whereupon an amendment was put forward and the motion was re-introduced. It basically said that questioning of witnesses would go to the Canadian Alliance, as Her Majesty's loyal official opposition, for 10 minutes, then to the Liberals on the committee for 10 minutes, then to the next party, the Bloc Quebecois, for 10 minutes, and then to the Liberals for 10 minutes, to the New Democrats for 10 minutes and the Liberals for 10 minutes. It would alternate back and forth.
While that solved one problem in the sense of being fair to the Liberal members who sit on the committee, because we would now have a situation where the Liberals, the government, would get half the questioning time of the witnesses who appeared, it was grossly unfair to the official opposition. Anybody who does any math can understand that there are 66 members of the official opposition, whereas the two smaller parties have 12 members and 13 members each. If the Alliance has its full allotment of MPs sitting on that committee, we have three people present to share one 10 minute slot to question someone, whereas the NDP and PCs get a full 10 minutes for one member.
I raised that as a concern, but it did not seem to resonate well with the other four parties, as one can imagine, because of partisanship. The Liberals got what they wanted, and of course the other parties, in particular the two smaller parties, had representation totally out of balance with the representation they have in the House of Commons.
I raised that matter, but we were constrained by time because the bells were ringing for a vote. Even when a standing committee is sitting, a call to come to the Chamber for a vote takes precedence; the committee meeting has to adjourn so that members can attend to the House and their duties here. I respect that fact. It is unfortunate that the debate was cut short on such an important matter.
I have been made aware through the official opposition whip's office that negotiations have been taking place and I appreciate that. Hopefully we can resolve this.
We must ensure that standing committees, as much as possible, operate in a non-partisan manner. I made the comment that it was grossly unfair to the official opposition. It might have been fun for the other four parties to all agree because they can simply raise their hands and vote. Our party has only three members on the committee, and whether we vote for or against is irrelevant. The government can set whatever procedures it wants.
If the Canadian Alliance is to properly represent the millions of Canadians who voted for it and who believe in its principles and policies, then the time its members are allotted to question witnesses should be in equal proportion to the support they have enjoyed.