Madam Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate you on your position of Assistant Deputy Chairman of the Committees of the Whole, and the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound on his election as chairman of the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations.
I would just like to inform the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River that the procedure in the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations is, obviously, the same as the one adopted when the Reform Party was the official opposition, and when the Bloc Quebecois formed the official opposition. So it is high time certain people stopped putting on airs. Obviously, we have adopted the same standard and the same procedure as in the past in the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations.
We are here today to discuss the bill on marine liability. This is an example of a bill on which all parties in the House were virtually unanimous. Why then is it not yet passed as we speak? We need to take some time to look at this, for it brings the whole Canadian parliamentary system into question.
Hon. members realize that the bill originated in the Senate. It could just as well have originated in the House of Commons. Then it would probably have had a chance to get passed before the last election. Once again, this is an example of how the parliamentary system complicates things, particularly for a bill of such benefit not only to the people of Canada but to people everywhere. Members understand because this bill deals among other things with oil spills, a major environmental concern.
Contrary to what the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt kept saying this morning, members know that any reform of the Canadian parliamentary system would require a close look at the Senate and at the millions of dollars it costs the parliamentary system, as well as all the endless delays without which Bills S-17 and S-2 for instance would have been passed much more quickly in the best interest of the people in Quebec and in Canada.
For the benefit of Quebecers and Canadians, I would like to briefly review the purpose of Bill S-2. The first part deals with personal injuries and accidents. It would allow the dependants of any person injured or killed in a marine accident to recover damages, which is not possible under the current legislation which will be replaced by this bill as soon as possible, hopefully in the days or the weeks to come.
Members will surely understand that, in the interest of all families, the Bloc Quebecois agrees with these new provisions that would allow, as I said, dependants of any person injured or killed in a marine accident to recover damages, as is often done under civil law.
The second part sets the rules for the appointment of liability. Obviously, this is based on the principle that, if several persons or ships were responsible for an accident, their liability should be proportionate to the degree to which they are respectively at fault. If it is impossible to determine who was at fault, then the parties involved should be jointly liable for losses and damages, as is the case in Quebec civil society.
The Bloc Quebecois cannot be against such a principle, which respects the logic of Quebec law.
Part 3 of the bill deals with the limitation of liability for maritime claims. The purpose of these provisions is to limit maximum liability in terms of cash amounts or units of account. Obviously, this can be somewhat complicated for the general public.
Units of account are special drawing rights issued by the International Monetary Fund under the 1976 convention concluded in London and under the Canada Shipping Act. This liability in terms of cash amounts or units of accounts will now cover owners of docks, canals and ports who are responsible for an accident. Again, this would ensure that all parties responsible for an accident assume their share of liability.
The Bloc Quebecois totally agrees with this position with regard to maritime claims.
Part 4 of the bill deals with liability for carriage of passengers by water. The objective is to apply the liability of carriers that was included in the 1974 Athens Convention regarding the carriage by sea of passengers and their baggage to the carriage by water under a contract involving passengers or passengers and their baggage from a place in Canada to any other place in Canada, and which could even transit through a destination outside the country.
This includes compensation for passengers and their baggage. Therefore, from now on, all those who engage in the transportation of passengers by water will be responsible for damage caused to passengers and to their baggage under any contract or tour that would begin and end in Canada, even if the purpose of the tour is to go outside Canada, or to travel to foreign destinations. If they come back, these carriers will be held responsible for the passengers and their baggage.
The Bloc Quebecois supports this proposal, which is in the best interests of Quebecers and Canadians.
Part 5 of the bill deals with the liability for the carriage of goods. The idea is to implement the Hague-Visby rules and the Hamburg rules to the transportation of goods by water. This applies to a much more commercial type of transportation that involves ships and large shipments. In this bill, carriage by water is the same as carriage by sea. Shipowners will be responsible for marine transportation in Canada's territorial waters.
Part 6 deals with liability and compensation for pollution. Pollution is among the most important issues in this bill.
The goal is to make shipowners responsible for damage caused by an oil spill but that liability is limited in the case of shipowners governed by the international convention on the limitation of liability, the 1969 Brussels convention which was amended in November 1976 and in November 1992.
Ships governed by that convention are required to provide a compliance certificate that compels them to have an insurance contract or a guarantor who shares with them responsibility for any damage. This would permit those suffering damage to take action against the shipowner, the insurer and the guarantor.
The principle of Quebec civil law permitting proceedings against all those responsible, including the insurers and the guarantors is applied to the principle of shipping and marine damage. The Bloc Quebecois fully supports the bill's recommendations.
The second section of part 6 of the bill concerns compensation for pollution. It involves the implementation of the international oil pollution compensation fund. The public must understand that the transportation of oil will be covered by an international compensation fund. Clause 73 provides as follows:
- If a claimant commences an action against the owner of a Convention ship or the owner's guarantor...the International Fund may appear—
The international fund is required to pay compensation through the fund administrator drawn on a compensation fund opened from a Government of Canada account and known as the ship-source oil pollution fund.
Clause 88 of Bill S-2, under the heading “Claims for Loss of Income”, enables an individual deriving income from fishing, the production of fish or the culture of marine plants, the owner of a fishing vessel and the individual processing fish on shore, who suffer a loss of current or future income or a loss of supply as the result of a discharge of oil from a ship to be compensated by the said fund.
All citizens, all workers in the fishing sector, all those who benefit from the product of fishing, may now, in the event of an environmental disaster resulting from a shipping accident causing a discharge of oil, be compensated by a special fund, the ship-source oil pollution fund. This is a bank account opened by the Government of Canada. I will explain later how shipowners will deposit money in this account.
The Bloc Quebecois agrees fully with this provision of the bill. It is time that not only all those who depend on products of the fishery for their livelihood are provided with some security, but also all those who benefit from commercial fishing, even those who farm aquatic plants, those who may benefit from the ocean's resources. These people will be compensated if ever there is spill resulting from a shipping accident.
Even though we are in agreement with the bill, there are always important questions to ask. We will no doubt have an opportunity to discuss these in committee before the bill is passed.
Clause 91 sets a maximum on the amount that the ship-source oil pollution fund may pay. This maximum is the same as the maximum in effect on March 31, 1990. This bill adds annual indexing based on the “Consumer Price Index, excluding the food and energy components”.
It is all very fine and well to decide to have a fund, to pay compensation and to set a ceiling, but the problem is that this is the same amount that applied on March 31, 1990, indexed but “excluding the food and energy components”.
It is inconceivable that the energy component would be excluded for a company or industry whose business involves energy, petroleum products and their transportation, given the millions and billions of dollars in profits they have made in recent years.
I hope the government will have the courage to force them to pay compensation that is indexed to include the energy component in the consumer price index.
Under the heading “Payments into the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund”, sections 93 and following require shipowners to pay a levy of 40 cents per metric ton in excess of 300 metric tons for shipments of oil imported by ship into Canada as bulk cargo or shipped by ship from any place in Canada in bulk as cargo.
Obviously this amount of 40 cents can be considered important, but once again we are back with the same problem as with the maximum amount. It is the same amount the industry was paying back on March 31, 1990. The bill states that the amount will be indexed annually according to the consumer price index, but again excluding the food and energy components.
The Bloc Quebecois will be insisting in committee on an amendment to this part of the bill so as to include the energy component for shipowners who are precisely the ones drawing benefit from this industry, which has become highly profitable in recent years.
This would represent a simple gesture of good faith toward all those who might incur damages and would like to see added to the annually indexed 1990 figures the cost of the energy component, which in this country has been one of the major causes of the increased cost of living.
Those who are listening will surely agree with us that the energy component has been the one most responsible for the rise in the cost of living, in the higher costs for Quebec and Canadian families. Energy costs have in large part been responsible for the increase in household costs in the past year and one-half, if not longer.
Moreover, the Government of Canada has even acknowledged this with the cheques it recently issued. This got a poor reception from the people who actually have to pay energy costs, who have to buy fuel oil, but many of whom were not included in this Liberal government largesse. Once again, because of the elections, they made another promise without calculating the impact on the good citizens of Quebec and of Canada. We trust that the energy component will be included.
I take the opportunity to pass the following message on to the Liberal government. Correct this error as quickly as possible. It is serious for anyone heating with oil, anyone facing increases in heating costs and should have received a cheque, regardless of their income.
These people have had a significant increase, sometimes as much as 80%, in the cost they pay for heating in recent years. Once again the industry benefited and not the public of Quebec and Canada.
We will agree with part 6, apart from the fact that, according to the consumer price index, the energy factor should be added to this indexing and not excluded from it.
The seventh part of the bill validates certain regulations, including those of the Canada Ports Corporation Act of 1983 and 1985, in addition to the regulations made under the Pilotage Act, the Laurentian Pilotage Tariff Regulations, 1992. We fully support the bill, which validates the tariffs for the Laurentian Pilotage Authority.
The Bloc Quebecois would like to point out the work of the Canadian Marine Pilots' Association and the International Maritime Pilots' Association, including the work of the lower St. Lawrence pilots and the pilots of central Quebec, who have had to fight for over 30 years for their profession.
Shipowners and members of the industry are constantly harassing pilots in the St. Lawrence Seaway and in central Quebec, in an attempt to eliminate their work, on the grounds that it is an excessive cost for their industry.
When a ship plies the St. Lawrence River and its affluents, it is taken care of by a pilot who is a member of the pilots' association to which I just referred. This pilot has the experience, skill, wisdom and knowledge required to avoid marine disasters.
It is important that in the bill we accept and recognize the Laurentian Pilotage Tariff Regulations.
I take this opportunity to ask the Liberal government to stop listening to shipowners who, again, are trying to make profits at the expense of pilots from the maritimes, the St. Lawrence River and central Quebec. These pilots are competent and they take charge of ships precisely to avoid natural disasters and oil spills in the St. Lawrence River.
We must stop criticizing and instead consolidate the work of these pilots, who are not the only ones in the world doing that job. There are pilots' associations on the Mississippi and elsewhere in the world, including in countries with large rivers and affluents.
Once again, we must try to send a clear message to these pilots, whose role it is to protect our environment and particularly to be responsible for a ship, regardless of its destination, whether it is Canadian or foreign owned, that they must take responsibility for it and ensure its safe arrival at ports along the St. Lawrence and all its tributaries.
I think that this is the best security we can obtain as Quebecers and Canadians. We must ensure our constituents, the people we know, Quebecers and Canadians, those around us, that there are people who are working to try to stave off future environmental disasters, the human errors made by captains unfamiliar with the difficulties of the St. Lawrence and its tributaries.
We are therefore taking this opportunity to pass this message on to the government and also to congratulate and thank marine pilots of whatever allegiance—because there are several marine pilots' associations—but especially those working on the St. Lawrence and its tributaries, the St. Lawrence and central Quebec pilots' associations, and all those doing a good job of trying to protect the environment of Quebec and of Canada.
The Bloc Quebecois is in agreement with part 8 of the bill concerning transitional provisions.
It has been my pleasure to present my position on a bill which, I repeat, should be passed as quickly as possible.
As I said at the beginning, it is sad that the Canadian parliamentary system, such as it is, delayed the passage of this bill before the last election. This is a bill originating in the Senate, with the result that there are very tight deadlines. The result was that a good bill, supported by all parties in the House, was significantly held up.