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House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was judiciary.

Topics

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Cadman Canadian Alliance Surrey North, BC

moved that Bill C-233, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (withdrawal of applications for full parole by offenders serving two or more years), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, once again it is an honour to have this opportunity to debate a private member's initiative in this place.

Bill C-233 is neither extensive nor is it complicated. It is another attempt to bring balance to our justice system. Having been intimately involved with various aspects of our justice system over the past number of years, I can fully appreciate its complexities, its size, its drain on resources and the necessity to balance the interests of the state, the offender and the victim. Bill C-233 is merely an attempt to readjust one aspect of what I perceive to be an injustice in the process.

Before I start to get into substantive issues about my proposed legislation, I would first like to advise listeners that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has decided to make the bill not votable. I could question the rationale for that decision and I could criticize the government members who comprise the majority of that committee, but I will not. I was not privy to their contemplations toward deciding what bills will be deemed votable and what bills will be deemed not votable. I fully understand that as backbenchers we are competing against each other for a chance to bring our own interest to law. Perhaps the next time my issue will be more successful. Perhaps even some day I may have the opportunity to sit on that committee and be forced to decide among many competing interests and issues.

All I can say is that it is most unfortunate that Bill C-233 is not a votable bill. It would dramatically lessen some of the emotional damages inflicted on individuals who have already been victimized by crime. Our justice process should not further victimize these individuals. I will attempt to explain the problem presented by the current process and how I am suggesting that it be alleviated.

As we all know, the majority of incarcerated criminal offenders will at some time have served their sentences and be released back into the community. At some point during their sentences they are permitted to apply for parole. If successful, they are released back into the community under many forms of supervision. As a society we need to ensure this gradual reintroduction and reclamation to our streets is successfully accomplished without threat to law-abiding citizens.

My proposal only deals with one minor aspect of this process. Once the offender applies for consideration for parole, a number of other people are affected. Correctional personnel may be interviewed to provide impressions and reflections on the character of the offender and whether that offender has made steps towards rehabilitation and contrition. Parole personnel will prepare a file on the history of that offender in order to assist the hearing process to ensure adequate information is available to aid and determine the suitability for release. Victims may be interested in presenting their fears or opinions respecting the release of someone who may still present a danger of committing additional criminal activity.

The problem is that there is nothing to stop offenders from withdrawing their applications for parole at any time during that process. Some offenders make application only to withdraw at the last moment before the parole board hearing actually takes place. When this form of abuse occurs, time and money is expended to obtain and prepare the corrections aspect for these hearings. Some people might say the taxpayer is already paying the correctional employees so there is really not additional cost involved. In some cases that may be so, but we are all probably aware that Canada does not have an overabundance of resources within the corrections department.

We can also understand that because our corrections personnel are stretched so thinly additional demands for their attention often necessitates the working of overtime. It may also require some travel as corrections personnel move from one location to another for many reasons.

Similarly, parole board members have to prepare themselves to learn the file for each specific offender applying for parole. They must be able to adequately question witnesses who provide information to form the basis of a decision on whether or not to release an offender back into the community. This costs time and money. More significant, we all know how important it is to have these parole boards do their job properly and completely. It does not help when time and effort is expended on a specific hearing, only to have it wasted when the offender subsequently withdraws that application. The time and effort wasted could have been better spent on other applications.

When we are dealing with scarce resources it does not help when the process permits waste to occur. We cannot afford the waste. The parole board must expend limited resources on the cases that are going to come to decision. We must ensure that the proper decision to release or detain is made on the basis of all available information, otherwise offenders may be released back into our communities when they should not and others may be held in custody when they should be released.

The victim is another important participant in the process. The victim has the right to provide input into the granting of parole. Victims often have to travel great distances to attend hearings which are nearly always held in the institution in which the offender is incarcerated. The institution may be miles from the home of the victim.

Frequently it may be in another province. I have a very personal example. Members of my family wishing to attend such a hearing for my son's killer would have had to travel from the west coast to Quebec. When victims expend the time, money and effort to attend a hearing, only to have it cancelled at the last minute by the offender, I would suggest that the offender is revictimizing those individuals once again, both financially and emotionally. The offender can reapply almost immediately and the roller coaster continues.

Hopefully I have sufficiently outlined the problem. It becomes a question of control and balance. It is the offender who has violated our laws but, as is so typical of our system, it is the same offender who possesses almost complete control over the parole process. That is not right.

As it has often been said, quite derogatorily, “the inmates are running the asylum”. This is not a debate about the right to parole. I am speaking only about improving our present system. If we are to permit an offender to apply for parole there must be some controls and consequences to that offender so that everyone else is not disadvantaged. Offenders who play “silly-bugger” with the process affect the stress and workload of corrections and parole board personnel as well as the lives of their victims. The whole parole process is needlessly skewed by legislation as an attempt to make a minor adjustment to bring that process into balance. Reforming a process is not rocket science. All I am suggesting is that there be some form of a consequence to the offender who initiates the process and then stops it without an acceptable reason.

My amendment would permit withdrawal for “illness, mental or physical capacity” and that is for causes beyond the offender's control. All we are doing is holding the offender to account. Withdrawal without proper excuse would have a consequence. Reapplication would not be permitted for two years.

Some critics have looked at this legislation with a typical jaundiced view just because a member of the Canadian Alliance is proposing it. They have challenged the bill over who will decide whether there is a valid excuse for the withdrawal of the application. The legislation leaves that determination to the parole board. They are the experts on parole hearings. They can decide this simply aspect. The offender of course will have the power to appeal any decision of the board.

The legislation is not a partisan attack on the parole process. It is merely an attempt to bring some common sense to a problem. We have offenders who apply for parole, withdraw the application anywhere down the timeline up to the last moment without having to give a reason, and then reapply almost immediately without any consequence.

I will move to some real examples of what has been occurring under the current provisions of this process.

Donald Alexander Hay kidnapped, raped and tortured 12 year old Abby Drover and held her in an underground dungeon for six months. In November 1997 he withdrew his parole application after a public outcry over his possible release. In March 1998 he reapplied. It does not take much to appreciate how much he has been able to further emotionally traumatize Abby Drover and her family when this situation occurs every few months. There must be something to cause such a situation to be decided one way or the other or at least be put on hold for a set period of time. It cannot be left entirely in his hands to decide when and how often he can wreak emotional turmoil on others. It cannot remain completely in his hands to cause needless work for the authorities when he unilaterally and without consequence withdraws from the process.

Ali Rasai, in Edmonton, sexually assaulted Holly Desimone. In 1998 she travelled to Winnipeg for his parole hearing with the help of a stranger who donated enough air miles for the trip. In August 1999 Holly once again had to travel for another scheduled hearing. He was denied parole each time. Another hearing was to take place in July 2000 and Holly was once again being forced to make plans to attend to say her peace.

I know the government is most anxious to get offenders back on the streets in order to reduce incarceration costs. However, not only was Holly horrendously damaged by Rasai, she was being forced to become inextricably intertwined with her abuser almost constantly over the past few years. She became a puppet on a string being held and controlled by someone as devious and unfit to be a part of society as Ali Rasai. I should tell listeners that Rasai is a former bodyguard for the shah of Iran and was convicted of raping three Alberta women, including Holly. He is a martial arts expert who entered Canada as a refugee and then has treated his adopted home in this manner.

By the way, the July 2000 hearing was postponed to August and then Rasai backed out once again. Surely there is something desperately wrong with the process.

Then there is a much more public case of Robert Thompson. He murdered Brenda Fitzgerald in 1983 while he was out of prison on a work pass. Brenda's mother, Helen Leadley, has become another puppet on a string. She has been forced to spend time and money to travel from Calgary to Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick to attend the hearings that Thompson cancels at the last minute. Helen Leadley has stated:

I've spent a lot of money going to these parole hearings, plus sometimes as soon as you get there, they're cancelled.

She estimates that she spent at least $3,000 attending Thompson's parole hearings in the maritimes. She further states:

And it's not only the money, it's the emotional stress involved around this in trying to fight to keep him in prison.

I do not wish to leave the wrong impression that Helen Leadley voluntarily has taken on this grudge match against the interests of Robert Thompson. There is a much more societal interest in this case.

As I said, Thompson committed the murder while he was already serving time for other offences. He has continued to issue threats to the victim's family from the prison. He once took a nurse hostage and stabbed two corrections officers during his time behind bars. In short, he is not a nice guy but we still permit him to exercise almost total control over the parole process.

The Minister of Justice announced in August of last year that the government would allocate $25 million to help victims of crime. The vast majority of that money is targeted toward research, consultation and public awareness of victims' rights. Some will go to emergency and other programs to help victims over the next years.

As we have seen from many government financed programs, $25 million sounds great when it is first announced but when we consider $5 million per year will get divided among 10 provinces and three territories, we soon realize that the money is not all that significant. Then we have to fund the administration of the programs with that money. It is difficult to see any funding support being available to victims to travel to parole hearings. Besides, as Helen Leadley has said, it is not just the money, it is the emotional turmoil that is hard to overcome.

The bill is not votable. I would appreciate the support of all members to pressure the government into bringing forth this proposal as it is long overdue. The minister is often fond of talking about balance within justice. My suggestions will bring balance and accountability to the parole process. I am only trying to bring fairness to all participants, including the administration. These amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act will improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of a tiny but significant portion of the parole process.

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Waterloo—Wellington Ontario

Liberal

Lynn Myers LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the member's proposal contained in Bill C-233.

The bill is outlined and is put before us today to discourage an offender from cancelling or postponing his or her parole hearing within a certain period of time before it is scheduled to take place. I understand that this proposal is being put forward to stop the inconvenience that such a cancellation would cause.

I think it is fair to say that is a laudable goal. Last minute postponements can be an inconvenience, especially for those who have to travel great distances, as was pointed out by the speaker prior to me, and also for the victims, media representatives and other observers. Of most concern, obviously, is the situation where a victim has planned to attend a hearing only to have the offender then cancel the hearing after the travel arrangements have been made. This can only add to the upset the victims feel in that kind of situation and with the whole system.

Victims do not choose to be in the situation they are in. To the extent that it is possible to make the process work better for them of course we should do so.

However I fear that the hon. member has gone too far with this bill. If an offender cancels for any reason not found acceptable to the National Parole Board, he or she would not be eligible for another hearing for two years. This is extreme punishment for an offender for what may turn out to be a minor inconvenience. If an offender cancels his or hearing a month or six weeks before it is scheduled to take place, the bill would deny the offender another chance for a parole hearing for two years.

I am afraid that this lengthy deprivation of access to conditional release in cases where only a very minor inconvenience was caused would not stand up to legal challenge.

The hon. member also referred to the need to protect the taxpayer in the first reading presentation of the bill. Any initiatives that would make our system of delivery of services to Canadians more effective would certainly be welcome. That being said, however, I am afraid that is not really an area where substantial or even minimal savings can be made.

When the National Parole Board schedules hearings, it normally schedules a number of hearings on the same day. If one such hearing is cancelled it can still proceed with the other hearings and no additional costs are incurred.

If the case management work has already been done then it is not lost if a hearing is not held. Case management is an ongoing process and reports are continually updated to reflect the current progress the offender is making. A report may need to be updated for a future hearing but again the costs are minimal.

What we need to do in these cases is to ensure that the victims and other observers are told as quickly as possible of the cancellation or postponement. We need to ensure that they find out when the hearing is rescheduled and we need to assist them in participating in a way that is most meaningful to them.

I have to point out that the government continues to work hard to understand the concerns of victims and supports the goal of helping them. We have a track record in that area and will continue it. That is why the government has taken a number of initiatives that will help victims.

We have established the policy centre for victims issues in the Department of Justice. The policy centre is mandated to develop and co-ordinate federal initiatives to strengthen the voice of victims in the criminal justice system.

Bill C-79 was brought into force December 1, 1999. It is legislation to enhance the safety, security and privacy of victims of crime in the criminal justice system. It is intended to ensure that victims are informed about opportunities to prepare victim impact statements and permits victims to read the statements out loud if they so choose. It requires police and judges to consider the safety of victims in all bail decisions. It makes it easier for victims and witnesses to participate in trials and permits a judge to ban the publication of the identity of victims and witnesses in the appropriate circumstances.

Finally, it requires all offenders to pay an automatic victim surcharge, an additional monetary penalty, which will increase revenue for provinces and territories to expand and improve victim services.

The victims policy centre will administer a $10 million victims' fund which will help to ensure that the perspective of victims of crime is considered in the development of all policies and legislation that may affect them. These funds will support innovative programs and services, public education initiatives, conferences and research by non-governmental experts. It will also be used to involve victim advocates and service providers, in partnership with provincial and territorial authorities, to identify key concerns and to develop options and strategies to meet the needs of victims in their communities.

The funds will also assist provinces and territories to implement the new criminal code provisions benefiting victims of crime and the principles enunciated in the Canadian statement of basic principles of justice for victims of crime agreed to by provinces and territories.

In May 2000 the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights tabled its report on the five year review of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act known as the CCRA. In that review it made a number of additional recommendations that will assist victims. In its response, the government has committed to take action on those recommendations.

What victims have told us is that they want more information and they want access to information earlier in the process. They want more opportunities to be heard and more opportunities to provide information. To that end, the government is committed to build on those identified needs.

The government, for example, has agreed to expand the information that will be provided to victims in the CCRA.

Currently, victims can attend National Parole Board hearings as observers. They can submit an impact statement to the board for consideration. New policies will allow victims to personally read a victim impact statement during the conditional release hearing.

For those victims who cannot attend the hearing, we will be exploring how they can have an opportunity to listen to the tapes of parole board hearings at local offices of the National Parole Board or the Correctional Service Canada. This is an attempt to bring the hearings closer to the victim, recognizing that not all victims can or want to be at a hearing in person.

The government also made a commitment to setting up a national office for the victims of crime to improve the links between the federal correctional system and victims.

The office will work with the policy centre at the Department of Justice. It will develop information for victims. It will assist in preparing training materials to ensure that all victim liaison staff are well trained to meet the needs of the victims. That is important and Canadians will recognize that.

The office will work with the Correctional Service Canada and the National Parole Board to ensure that policies are sensitive to victims' issues and needs.

Finally, it will be focused on solving problems that are identified by victims who find themselves in the system.

To be sure that whatever measures are put in place meet the needs of victims, consultations are taking place right now across Canada to meet with victims and seek their input on what they want from the system and how best to meet their needs. These are the types of meaningful actions that will work to support victims once they find themselves in our criminal justice system.

I respectfully suggest that the approaches taken by the government and that are in the process of being taken by the government go a long way to improving the lot of victims.

However, I cannot support the hon. member's bill. While the inconvenience caused to other observers is regrettable, I think we need to ensure that whatever approach we take balances the rights of all participants, including the offender's right to have a hearing.

The vast majority of offenders do not cancel their hearings to cause inconvenience to either the National Parole Board members, their case management staff or the people who attend. In a small number of cases, unfortunately, this does happen. When it does, it reflects an attitude on the part of the offender that I am sure is taken into account by the parole board.

Having said that, I think it is important that we not support this non-votable item.

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pierrette Venne Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, chastise, punish, stigmatize: this would summarize the Alliance philosophy, one from which the hon. member for Surrey North has not deviated with his introduction of this bill. It is intended as an extension of the repressive and punitive approach that is characteristic of the Canadian Alliance. The same approach has been used in connection with the newest young offenders bill, Bill C-7, which that party does not feel is harsh enough.

Outside of its propensity for the rod, the Canadian Alliance has nothing particularly tangible to propose. Its concept of justice is way out of date, hearkening back to the days when the law was enforced by threats and terror.

Studies have proven that extreme measures have never constituted a remedy, so why does the Alliance persist in promoting this outmoded model of justice? That party is limited by its short term vision, which offers no concrete solutions.

The bill of the hon. member for Surrey North represents an excessively punitive addition to the parole application process for inmates eligible for this program.

The bill proposes the addition of two paragraphs to section 123 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act—

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh.

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pierrette Venne Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, pardon me, but there is someone talking behind me, and I find it very distracting. Would it be possible to ask that person to keep quiet?

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member has just indicated to me she is being bothered by the talking going on behind her. If hon. members are having private conversations, would they hold them behind the curtain or in the lobby, please.

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pierrette Venne Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This bill, which proposes to add two paragraphs to section 123 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, creates disproportionate penalties inappropriate to the logic of the legislation.

According to the bill of the member for Surrey North, an offender serving a sentence of two years or more, who withdraws a application for parole at a late stage in the review, without good reason, will not have a new application considered for two years. By contrast, in the case of an ordinary application for full parole the board turns down, the period before a new application may be submitted is only six months.

The excessive severity of the penalty proposed by the member for Surrey North is apparent. Withdrawal results in the imposition of a two year waiting period, while denial results in a six month period. The difference between the two situations is unjustifiable.

This bill, intended to limit a multiplicity of unwarranted withdrawals once the review process has begun, would be more relevant with an amendment to the penalty imposed for withdrawal.

Reference to subsection 123(6) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which states that, when the board decides “not to grant full parole following a review pursuant to this section, no further application for full parole may be made until six months after the decision, reveals that the bill introduced by my Canadian Alliance colleague would only introduce a degree of discord in the system.

How can the member for Surrey North want to impose a harsher penalty in the case of a late stage withdrawal than in the case of a full parole request made at the end and rejected? Inmates would be unduly penalized by such a measure. They might as well not bother to withdraw an application for a review of their case, at the risk of having that application denied and start the process all over again six months later. Given this situation, why not shorten the suggested period from two years to six months?

Since this bill does not seem, on the face of it, to be a bad piece of legislation, the only thing that should be changed is the penalty, to make it more equitable.

By setting a period similar to the one prescribed in the case of a new application for parole after a denial, namely six months, we would not lose sight of the objective pursued, while also establishing a fairer system. Inmates would not benefit from withdrawing their application for futile motives. They would have to take responsibility and face an appropriate penalty.

With its proposed two year period, the bill could create a problem in that it could deter inmates from withdrawing their application even though they no longer quite feel ready for parole, this in spite of the motives that they might invoke.

In addition to the adjustment of the penalty, however, another factor needs to be considered in connection with this bill. The statistics in a document dated April 2000 produced by the Correctional Service of Canada raise even more questions about the wisdom of Bill C-233.

These statistics concern applications for parole from female inmates. They reveal that none, 0%, of the 436 applications submitted between April 1998 and March 1999 were withdrawn. These results are very interesting and show how pointless it is to regulate a practice that, among women anyway, is exceptional, being quite simply non-existent. In these conditions, what purpose is served by introducing a measure such as this?

In conclusion, we therefore see the addition proposed by the member for Surrey North as a completely superfluous manoeuvre that has unfortunately done nothing but take up an hour of the House's time. It is superfluous because, on the one hand, it would include in the bill a measure that is not absolutely essential, as the figures tend to show and, on the other, it would propose a penalty completely disproportionate to the action it is intended to discourage. These are two reasons why such a bill is not votable.

It would seem that the member has been carried away by the vindictive approach typical of his party, which tends to favour a heavy-handed approach to justice. Imposing overly repressive measures is not the appropriate response to a situation that does not really require any particular action. Nothing is served by creating a threat-based justice system. In fact, laying down the law is the only vision some political systems have come up with.

Of course, there must be respect for the law, but prevention and rehabilitation must also be considered. Above all, experience has shown us that there must be a thoughtful, fair and equitable approach, as this is the only way of ensuring that justice becomes a tool for the evolution of society and not a mere reflection of its instincts.

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the Chamber to participate in the debate today.

The bill as it has already been laid out is meant to address an anomaly in the current Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Bill C-233 puts forward a specific change or amendment which would bring about more accountability, it is suggested, in the current method in which applications for full parole are put forward and then drawn back on occasion for strategic reasons.

The hon. member for Surrey North has put forward this proposed change to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in very good faith. Knowing this individual and his work within the system, one can only commend his efforts to bring this matter forward. This particular member for Surrey North is all too familiar with the current criminal justice system given the tragic circumstances that befell him and his family when his son Jesse was murdered. I have no doubt whatsoever that the member is completely sincere in his efforts to have this anomaly addressed.

Having said that, I will say that the purpose of this enactment is quite clearly to restrict the ability of an individual applying for parole to withdraw the parole request at the last moment, at the 11th hour, thus causing the system, but more important the victims and the victims' families, undue suffering, frustration and often significant financial loss.

This amendment, as already discussed in the Chamber, does propose that a penalty be imposed, that is, there would be a two-year minimum before an individual could apply for parole once again. My colleague from the Bloc suggests that this particular time period might be amended. I would very much associate myself with that remark as well. I think the hon. member for Surrey North would also be amenable to looking at this possible amendment to Bill C-233, because it is a discretionary act on the part of the parole board in any event. Its ability to restrict the time in which an individual could apply once again for parole should also perhaps be discretionary. This is a useful amendment and once again demonstrates the usefulness of this discussion.

At the very least, the response would be to caution or to send a message of deterrence and denunciation when there is evidence that a system is being abused or flouted. Clearly there may not be a rampant number of instances where this has happened, but I would humbly suggest to the House that if it happens at all it is an abuse. If the system allows it to happen it is an anomaly that should be addressed, which is the purpose of the proposed bill.

The legislation in its current form has no recourse. Even in instances where it has been demonstrated that there has been a frivolous reason given for withdrawing application for parole, there is no actual recourse available for the parole board. The bill will prevent an application from being withdrawn without good reason, after substantial preparation has been made, and then renewed again shortly. There is a very common sense approach in this legislation. There is a reason behind it that one can quite clearly embrace.

The Conservative Party will support the bill for the simple reason that the current practice allows offenders to waste resources of the parole board but more important because it allows mental anguish for the victims of the offender. Upon examination of the facts, a determination of the reason for the cancellation can be made quite easily. This would be weighed to determine the validity, and if it is not valid then surely some consequences should follow. This is consistent with all principles of justice.

This is not to say that further punishment should be unfairly meted out to individuals in addition to their sentences. It is simply a response when it becomes clear that a potential parolee has made a tactical decision to withdraw his or her application for whatever reason. One can only imagine the demented mind of a person who would do this for the simple joy of causing anguish to victims, but sadly there are those in the system who do just that.

Similarly, it may be done for a tactical reason. It may be done to throw off the efforts of the victims to attend the parole board hearing, for example, where their comments might have some impact on whether parole is granted.

The simple principle that there have to be consequences, as I have stated, is very consistent with principles of justice and deterrence. This would put in place some deterrents for the parole board if it was proven on fact and on evidence that a parolee had abused the system to his or her advantage.

The bill surely aims at subduing the antics of anyone who would behave in this fashion. Without mentioning the names of some of our more high profile heinous criminals in the country, we know that there are those who have engaged in this type of activity. The hon. member for Surrey North has recited some concrete examples of what has happened in the past.

The financial implications are also a consideration when examining the facts of the legislation. Costs for travel and accommodation are most often borne by the victims. We have a vast country and clearly we have institutions from coast to coast. Through no fault of their own, victims very often feel it incumbent upon themselves, as abhorrent as it seems to the offender, to see that justice is being done, to attend parole hearings and to have their say. They feel a personal attachment to the file.

I hasten to add that there have been improvements in our justice system. There have been efforts made to be more inclusive and to ensure that victims are heard within our system. There have been recent changes which I and our party applaud, but we are also familiar with the fact that there remain a lot of areas for improvement.

Often there is a lack of information. Lack of information plays into the situation that is the subject of the bill. Often this occurs when a victim is not given ample warning or advance notice of when a parole hearing is going to be cancelled; the victim therefore suffers all of the consequences of not having that information in advance. Having a national victims ombudsman office would address some of this lack of information which is sometimes inherent in the justice system.

The bill is one that I feel is laudable. It is a concrete effort by the member to close a loophole, which would very much be to the advantage, not an unfair advantage but a fair advantage, of victims who are striving to participate in our justice system at whatever level they choose. That is often key when dealing with victims. The key is to ensure that they have the discretionary power to participate to whatever level they choose within the current law and to ensure that they feel they have a voice, that their opinions and their input matter.

I would suggest that the individual who put the bill forward has personal knowledge and understanding from a victim's perspective of how the system is currently working and, in some cases, currently failing. He has identified quite clearly with Bill C-233 a substantive change that could be made which would address the current problem.

The Conservative Party has been a consistent supporter of victims of crime and will continue to support efforts such as this when they are brought forward with the best of intentions and with great honesty and integrity, as is the case before us. The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime is also very supportive, as are other victims who have faced this situation in the past.

This is not in any way to undermine the laudable goals of rehabilitation and reintegration within our current system. However, support for victims is needed and enacting this legislation would inject fairness and greater access.

I suggest as well that it is a bill which should be made votable. We certainly would support the hon. member's motion to make this matter votable. I would hope all members would do the same.

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, when I came here today I thought this subject would be something we could discuss calmly and rationally. There would be some differences of opinion, but I did not think it would evoke a tremendous amount of emotion. It would be based on some facts.

Then I saw the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice rise to respond to my colleague. He is known to go off like a Roman candle with very little requirement or cause whatsoever. I was pleased he was relatively calm today. In fact he was quite calm. I do not think his reasoning was very good, but he was uncharacteristically calm.

Then we heard from the Bloc Quebecois member. I have never in my life heard such garbage spewed forth in the House. The attack made by that member, and I certainly will not expand on it—

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but I would ask him to address his comments through the Chair.

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

I believe I was, Mr. Speaker. I was referring to a member. I certainly did not intend to speak directly to her. In light of the comments she made, I really do not want to speak to her. If I made that mistake, I apologize.

The member from the Bloc Quebecois rose in the House to question the motives and the whole concept of how the hon. member for Surrey North approaches this problem. If there is a member in the House that has a right to be bitter and enraged about the way the system works, it is he. I have never found a more reasoned person trying to make honest changes. I am absolutely disgusted that any member of the House would rise to put forth the unmentionable types of statements she made.

I will look at some of them. She talked about how this would be so unfair to these poor prisoners because it would give them additional time in prison. May I remind her that when people are sentenced to eight years in prison it is intended that they be in prison for eight years. Parole is a privilege, not a right. They should have to show they have earned parole. Manipulating the system is certainly not a good way to earn parole.

I am absolutely shocked that someone from Quebec of all places that has such a huge problem with organized crime would stand in this place to start defending the rights of people in prisons who further twist the system once they have been caught and convicted. It is no wonder there are so many problems with criminals in the province of Quebec when people like that represent the criminals themselves. I think it is disgusting. As far as the fact that she was bothered by other conversations, I think it is pretty obvious I was bothered by hers.

I would also like to address a couple of comments that were made by the parliamentary secretary. He talked about the wonderful things the government was doing for victims. It has developed a policy centre for victims of crime. What is the good of having a policy centre if it does not listen to what those very people are saying and does not provide the help that they plead for when they come before the parliamentary committee of the House?

I heard these people and they did not ask for a lot. I was a member of the committee that reviewed the CCRA. They did not come in pounding on the table, frothing at the mouth and making demands. They came in with quiet reasoning, with a great amount of sadness and heaviness in their hearts. They said there were problems in the system which they hoped the government would try to address.

I had the privilege of sitting with the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. I was happy to have his support because there was scant support on that committee. The hon. member from the Bloc Quebecois joined the committee later as a replacement member. I do not know if her attitude would have changed if she had seen the whole thing and had an opportunity to see what we did while we studied the issue. I would like to think it would have, that she had some misplaced ideas rather than a strange point of view overall.

The parliamentary secretary said that they were striving for more opportunities for victims to be heard. That is what this is all about. We want more opportunities for these people to be heard. The problem occurs when they come in, in keeping what the government has said, to avail themselves of greater opportunities to be heard, only to have someone who wants to manipulate the system cancel the hearing at the last moment. That is not in keeping with what the parliamentary secretary says the government wishes to do. Ironically all we are doing with the bill is trying to help him keep his own word. We work very hard to try to keep them honest over there.

I think we need a much better look at the issue. One of the points made today was that sometimes when good ideas come forth in this place from the Canadian Alliance there is an automatic, and I do mean automatic, rejection of those ideas.

We would be more than happy to have the government steal the idea and bring it out as its own. We would be happy to applaud it for doing so. We do not care how it gets out. We do not care who gets the credit for it. We just want the system to work better and to be fair.

As I mentioned earlier, these victims did not come forward with great demands. They came forward very humbly and did not ask for a lot. They came forward knowing that they would not be able to make great changes but hoping the government was listening and would address the serious problems.

The parliamentary secretary said that there would be minor inconvenience for the parole board and really no cost. What about the victims? Maybe it is not a great cost to him if he has to travel across the country, only to have the plan cancelled at the last minute, because he has more time for something else.

Victims do not look at it in that way. They plan leave from their business, place of work or employment. They may use their vacation time, not for a vacation or to do something that relieves their lives and helps them to rejuvenate themselves but to immerse themselves back in the horrors of the original crimes.

During that time they make a commitment and prepare themselves mentally to undergo the ordeal. They commit time from their employer. They may buy a ticket, a non-refundable ticket, to travel. To have offenders cancel a hearing without good cause, sometimes as victims are literally walking into the room, is not a small hardship for victims. It is a massive one.

The government believes what it says. If the parliamentary secretary believes in the things he said a few moments ago, that he would like more opportunities for victims to be heard and the system to be fairer, the bill must go ahead.

It should be amended to give more flexibility to the parole board in terms of how much time or when exactly it should be impacted, but government members should not turn their back on it. They must do something with it. It is not a partisan issue. The parliamentary secretary knows that if anyone is non-partisan in trying to fix the problems of the parole system and the justice system, it is the hon. member for Surrey North. I ask those members to consider the matter, not as members of government, not as members who are whipped into a particular position by their party, but by their own conscience. I urge them to try to place themselves in the shoes of victims and try to imagine, even just for a moment, how they would feel if they were in these circumstances.

There are few over there, if they honestly did this, who would not support the bill or at least something very close to it. Victims have rights. Those rights should far outweigh the rights of the people who made them victims in the first place. It should not even be a major consideration on the part of government.

This is a good bill. It is a bill that has been brought forward with honourable intentions by someone who has worked very hard to see that the system is balanced and balanced fairly. I urge members to consider allowing the bill to go ahead.

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Cadman Canadian Alliance Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank all those who spoke to the bill. Even though the bill is not votable, at least we have been provided with an opportunity for debate.

In bringing the issue forward in this manner I hope it may cause the government to think about the proposal. I respectfully ask government members to use their influence to attempt to sway the powers that be to consider this suggestion for change. I also respectfully ask the parole authorities to think about this and attempt to influence the government to act. It would lessen their workload and enable them to more effectively administer their program.

I do not ask for this change for myself. I ask it on behalf of victims of crime. I ask it on behalf of the Canadian taxpayer. Yes, I even ask it on behalf of those offenders who are most affected by the parole process.

Members may well ask where I am coming from when I suggest that even the offenders could be helped by this proposal. As I stated earlier, criminal offenders are classified as such because they have been unable to follow the rules set out by society. We have laws and they have offended those laws. They are being punished and rehabilitated to convince them and others of the necessity for all of us to follow the norm set out to enable all of us to peacefully co-exist.

However, even after they are incarcerated and placed on the so-called road to rehabilitation, it accomplishes nothing to just forget about them. We have rules and laws to ensure that they are properly considered and treated. One of the rights we provide is the right to be heard and considered for parole at some point during their sentence. The problem the bill attempts to address is the abuse of that right. Because there is no consequence for the abuse of that right, we are doing a rather poor job of rehabilitation.

Part of rehabilitation is showing offenders the error of their ways and assisting them to correct their behaviour and desist from future criminal activity. If we set up a right to apply for parole and then permit an offender to abuse that right, what are we teaching that individual? Are we not permitting deviant behaviour to continue? Would it not make more sense to provide the right and include a consequence for abuse of that right? This is what I am suggesting. It only makes sense. It may not be that big a deal in the overall scheme of things but I really fail to understand why something so elemental has been ignored and allowed to continue.

Please do not get me wrong. I would be the last to ever suggest that this issue is insignificant to victims of crime. I know how important it is to them. I know how they have been messed around because of the shenanigans perpetrated by some offenders. It is time to stop this abuse.

I have been asked how prevalent this abuse may be. I do not think I could come up with a better answer than that provided by the chair of the subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. She stated “One case is one case too many. We do not play number games here”.

To provide more information is difficult because we often do not learn of abuses unless the victims go public with their complaints. The parole authorities have been good soldiers for the government and they merely carry on to administer the laws they are presented.

The three cases I mentioned were easily found when I went looking for examples. The Canadian resource centre for victims of crime supports this initiative and considers the issue of extreme importance. In fact, I have a letter from the centre's president, Mr. Steve Sullivan, expressing his disappointment with the fact that the bill was deemed to be non-votable. He has personally attended a number of parole hearings with victims who have been re-victimized in this way.

I appreciate the opportunity to debate this matter and, rest assured, I do not intend to let it go. I will continue to do my part to attempt to bring about the necessary change. I respectfully request the unanimous consent of the House to make the bill votable.

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Does the House give its consent to make Bill C-233 votable?

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Corrections And Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion was not selected as a votable item, this item is dropped from the order paper.

Canada Shipping Act, 2001Government Orders

March 12th, 2001 / 11:55 a.m.

Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel Québec

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Liberalfor the Minister of Transport

moved that Bill C-14, an act respecting shipping and navigation and to amend the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987 and other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Shipping Act, 2001Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Algoma—Manitoulin Ontario

Liberal

Brent St. Denis LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform the House that I will be splitting my time with the member for Malpeque who will speak on behalf of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

I am pleased to speak to Bill C-14, the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

Transportation has always played a vital role in our history and it continues to do so today. The means of travel have changed from the days of the canoe, wagon and steam engine. Canoes are still important today but much has changed in terms of modes of transportation.

The facts of Canadian geography and economics remain much the same. We are a country of distances and space, a comparatively small population spread across a vast land mass, relying on trade with other nations for our prosperity. Those are the facts of Canadian life and they are the reasons transportation continues to be so important.

Transportation remains essential to our lives and to our economy. Transport Canada has examined every aspect of our transportation system in recent years to determine what tools the economy needs to thrive. In turn, the government has worked to improve the legislative framework governing air transportation, railways and ports. It is time to bring Canadian shipping into the 21st century.

The Canada Shipping Act is the principal piece of legislation governing personal safety and environmental protection in the marine sector. No one can deny the pressing need to review and overhaul the legislation. I say pressing need because the legislation is sorely outdated and a successful marine industry, essential to our prosperity, needs modern legislation.

We are a maritime nation with three coasts and vast interior waterways. We are a trading nation and we depend on shipping to move much of our trade. Transport Canada data indicates that in 1999 the civil marine industry directly employed approximately 31,000 people and shipped a total of 334 million tonnes of cargo.

The shipping industry moved imports and exports worth $83 billion in 1999. Over 90% of marine tonnage derives from bulk commodities such as coal, ores, petroleum, grain and forest products. International shipments comprise about 84% of total traffic, a number expected to grow in the future.

Despite that impressive record, Canada's shipping industry will find it increasingly difficult to compete internationally unless we implement transportation policies that are based on sound, modern legislation and consistent with those of our trading partners. We can readily see that transportation is vital to Canada, that the marine industry is important to our economy and that the Canada Shipping Act is outdated and needs revision.

What about the proposed legislation before the House? How will it answer the needs I have outlined?

The objectives of Bill C-14 are stated clearly in part 1 of the bill. The objectives are threefold: First, to protect the health, safety and well-being of individuals; second, to protect the marine environment; and third, to encourage viable, effective and economical marine transportation and commerce.

To support those objectives a complete reform of the Canada Shipping Act was undertaken. The reform had three goals: First, to simplify the legislation by replacing outdated terminology with plainer language, harmonizing it with other regimes and taking out excessively prescriptive details.

Second, to make it consistent with federal regulatory policies, reducing reliance on regulations and permitting alternative approaches, such as compliance agreements, performance standards and voluntary industry codes which are much more consistent with today's regulatory practices.

Third, to contribute to the economic performance of the marine industry by reducing prescriptive elements and the administrative burden imposed by the current legislation, and by giving the industry the increased flexibility it needs to maintain safety and to increase business.

The current act is, without exaggeration, antiquated. The act came into law in 1936 and was based on the 1896 British merchant shipping law. Many parts of the existing act are so out of date they would be amusing if the act were not a crucial piece of legislation.

The act is also supported by an extensive regulatory regime composed of at least 90 separate regulations. The sheer size, difficult language and vast coverage of the legislation make it as difficult to enforce as to follow. Canada needs modern legislation that will benefit, not hinder, the marine sector in Canada.

Bill C-14 is the result of several years' work by the Department of Transport in conjunction with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Industry and other affected parties and stakeholders. It is not a mere retrofitting of the old act. It has been built, much like a vessel, from the keel up. We call Bill C-14 the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 because it reflects a complete break with the past.

The bill is a crucial step toward ensuring that the Canadian shipping industry has legislation that reflects modern industry practices and keeps up with technological advancements.

A joint effort by Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Bill C-14 was developed through unprecedented consultations with stakeholders. This consultative process is an excellent example of co-operation between the government and the marine communities to achieve the shared objective of improving our marine system.

On behalf of the government, I take the opportunity to thank the interested parties that brought forward their views on the many issues addressed in the legislation. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada crossed the country five different times holding discussion groups and listening to the ideas of individuals and industry. In June 1999 a draft bill was shared with the industry.

The two departments listened carefully to stakeholders and, wherever possible, accommodated their concerns. They drew the line only where accepting a proposal would have undermined their ability to protect the marine environment or the health and well-being of those who work in the marine industry.

The legislation before the House is appropriate. It incorporates most of the concerns presented to the government by diverse groups with differing views from across the country. The aim of the bill is to make Canada's marine legislation a tool that benefits all Canadians, to enable industries to be more competitive and to protect the marine environment.

Bill C-14 was drafted to be accessible and comprehensible to all Canadians. In keeping with this goal, the language of the new act is simpler. The legislation is more concise and logically organized. The number of sections has been greatly reduced and, as requested by the marine community, Bill C-14 contains a preamble that states the overall objectives of the act and makes it simpler and easier to understand.

The legislation also clearly delineates the areas of responsibility between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada. For instance, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has responsibility for pleasure craft and Transport Canada has responsibility for all non-pleasure craft.

Both industry and Transport Canada require a mechanism to address rapid technological change. Unlike aircraft or locomotives, ships are most often built one at a time. This requires flexibility in how we administer regulations, a flexibility that must be tempered within the bounds set by parliament.

Bill C-14 clearly outlines the powers of a proposed marine technical review panel which would replace the existing board of steamship inspection. The panel would be empowered to grant an exemption only if it were in the public interest and would not jeopardize marine safety or the environment. Any exemption would need to result in an equivalent or greater level of safety before the panel could approve an application or an exemption.

Bill C-14 clarifies the shipmaster's responsibility to ensure the vessel is adequately staffed with properly qualified and trained personnel. Also clarified is the master's authority to maintain good order and discipline on board a vessel. In response to stakeholder concerns, the right of seafarers to place a lien against a vessel for unpaid wages remains in the bill.

Labour provisions in the existing act, the Canada Labour Code and provincial statutes, often overlap. To avoid this, the department's ability to regulate in the area of occupational health and safety is restricted to matters not identified in the labour code.

Part 4 of the bill is primarily concerned with the safe design, construction, inspection and operation of vessels. Detailed provisions in the existing legislation have been moved to other regulations or standards. Antiquated provisions were eliminated.

In consultation with stakeholders, industry supported Transport Canada's retaining responsibility for setting minimum ship safety standards. It was also agreed that the responsibility for safety and compliance should be shared among those working on a vessel and that these responsibilities, particularly those of the master, should be defined in the act.

Bill C-14 allows Canada to fulfil its international obligations respecting various international conventions, such as safety of life at sea and the international safety management code, by allowing the department to implement these instruments via regulation.

The legislation before us focuses on safety and covers all Canadian waters and fishing zones. Provisions related to marine liability have been transferred to the Marine Liability Act, introduced as Bill S-2, which will hopefully soon be before committee.

Commitment to marine safety and protection of the environment has been reinforced by Canada's commitment to port state control. As a port state, Canada is permitted to board foreign vessels to inspect them regardless of the currency of their safety certificates. That means that whoever comes into our ports will be inspected, no matter what flag they fly. More than 25% of all vessels that dock in Canadian ports are inspected, with the focus being on ships with potential safety concerns.

In 1999 Canada inspected 1,076 vessels from 86 registered countries. Of those, about half had deficiencies in such major areas as lifesaving, navigation equipment and safety in general. The greatest number of deficiencies was in the area of fire safety measures. In 1999, 125 vessels were detained until deficiencies were rectified. To ensure the safety of ports and of vessels using Canadian waters, we must maintain vigilance.

One of the main objectives of the proposed legislation is to protect the marine environment. Bill C-14 contains regulation making authority regarding preventing and responding to pollution of the marine environment. Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans officials have worked closely with all interested parties to ensure that the legislation's pollution preventing provisions are modern and consistent with other domestic and international standards. The departments have also worked together to ensure that the penalties for non-compliance are competitive and effective.

Transport Canada takes all pollution matters seriously. The proposed legislation enhances the ability to protect the marine environment. Measures to prevent marine pollution and improve maritime safety are addressed by the International Maritime Organization. The measures are implemented in Canada through the Canada Shipping Act.

Most of the department's efforts focus on preventing pollution by setting regulatory requirements for ship based equipment such as oil-water separators, inspection and certification of Canadian vessels, and inspection of foreign vessels calling at Canadian ports.

When ship sourced pollution is detected in the marine environment Transport Canada investigates in close co-operation with Environment Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard. When sufficient evidence is collected charges are laid using regulations under the Canada Shipping Act or other Canadian statutes depending on the source of the pollution incident.

The proposed legislation provides appropriate deterrents and an effective enforcement scheme which includes penalties for minor and serious offences relating to the environment. For major pollution offences the penalty provisions contained in the proposed act are modelled on the current Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is also a high priority for the Canadian government. Marine transportation contributes only about 3% of all transportation related emissions. That makes marine transportation an important part of a sustainable transportation system. We as members of parliament must encourage its use wherever possible.

At the same time even those emissions can be further reduced. Transport Canada will continue to have authority to regulate emissions from large vessels and will continue to make that a priority.

There is also a need to protect the marine environment from harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens that enter our waters in ship ballast water. Transport Canada continues to lead national and regional working groups on ballast water. A commitment has been made to have Canadian regulations on ballast water in place by 2002. Having a Great Lakes riding, I can appreciate the importance of regulating ballast water that comes from our oceans through ships.

I now turn to an aspect of the economic regulations of shipping and navigation, namely the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act. For the purposes of this discussion I will say SCEA from here on in. Amendments to SCEA are found in part 15 of Bill C-14.

Part 15 addresses an important aspect of transportation supporting the Canadian economy: the movement by ship of Canada's overseas containerized trade, as well as some general cargo. This is specifically known in the industry as the liner trade. International shipping lines offer regularly scheduled liner services between ports around the globe. A shipping line has the choice to join a shipping conference or to remain as an independent operator.

A shipping conference is a group of ocean shipping lines acting collectively to set rates and offer services on specific trade routes. Shipping conferences are recognized throughout the world and they contribute to reliable service and stable rates.

Many of Canada's trading partners, such as the United States, Europe, Australia and Japan, accommodate conferences through special legislation. Recently they have reviewed their conference legislation and concluded that, while it should be retained, more competitive provisions can be accommodated.

The Shipping Conferences Exemption Act exempts shipping conferences from certain provisions of the Competition Act and sets the rules for their operations. Amendments to SCEA are now required to keep Canada's shipping conferences legislation and rules in balance with Canada's major trading partners. The amendments encourage a more competitive climate within conferences and also streamlines the administration of the act.

Canada enacted its first Shipping Conferences Exemption Act in 1971. SCEA was updated and replaced on two occasions, in 1979 and again in 1987. Both revisions added new competitive provisions in the act. SCEA was last reviewed by the National Transportation Act Review Commission and the Standing Committee on Transport during the years 1992 and 1993. It was concluded that, while conferences run counter to the general government policy of encouraging competition, the act should be retained on grounds that the economic uncertainty created by its elimination would not be in Canada's best interests.

While liner shipping represents only 15% of Canada's international marine tonnage, this figure does not adequately reflect the importance of liner shipping to Canada as lower value bulk commodities, like grain and coal, dominate the tonnage statistics.

In general, commodities in the liner trades consist of higher value products, such as electronic and telecommunications equipment and automobile components.

The container business is also a major contributor to the prosperity of ports, such as Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax, Canada's three main container ports. It is therefore in Canada's interest to continue to attract the shipping lines while at the same time encouraging affordable ocean transportation and an adequate and reliable level of service for Canadian industries.

It should be understood that even though a shipping conference may be entitled to an exemption under SCEA, the act does not suspend the application of the Competition Act for any conference agreement if any party to the agreement conspires, agrees or arranges to engage in predatory pricing or other anti-competitive behaviour.

While anxious to protect the interests of Canadian industry, the government must be mindful of the need for a balanced approach to conference legislation. Radical anti-conference measures or a departure from compatible international rules could result in unfavourable repercussions for Canadian industry and Canadian ports.

I mentioned that the amendments to SCEA, as contained in part 15, will encourage a more competitive operating climate within shipping conferences and will provide added flexibility for shippers in dealing with conferences. Shippers will have the ability to more quickly access rates and services offered by individual conference lines. Meanwhile each conference member will be able to negotiate service contracts with shippers without adhering to terms and conditions set by the conference.

The amendments are also designed to streamline the administration of the act. Hence, tariff filing by conferences with the Canadian Transportation Agency will be replaced with public electronic access to conference tariffs and other conference information.

By adopting these changes to SCEA, Canadian legislation pertaining to shipping conferences will remain in balance with our major trading partners. Shippers will benefit from the injection of greater competition into the practices of conferences while conferencing will continue to have a limited exemption from the Competition Act.

In conclusion, the bill will help make Canada's waterways a safer place for both seafarers and the public and will ensure a competitive industry. It is a product of unprecedented consultations with industry and other stakeholders, a process that has helped us to craft legislation that will protect safety and the environment through a graduated series of fair and appropriate penalties retaining always prosecution for serious offences.

Politics is the art of the possible. We have practised that art balancing the needs and concerns of Canadians with different interests and protecting the environment and those who work at sea. The results are an effective piece of legislation that will replace an act long overdue for renewal and give Canadians the modern, efficient framework we need for the 21st century.

I urge the House to support the bill and speedily send it off to committee.

Canada Shipping Act, 2001Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-14, the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. This is a major piece of legislation early in this new parliament. We do not know if it will last a full millennium but the contents of the bill will stand for decades. I say that based partly on past experience.

The old act has been on the books and has received only minor changes since 1936 and has served us reasonably well. However it became apparent within Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as well as to our marine industry and stakeholders, that a newer, more comprehensive and modern version of the act was needed to keep Canada's marine activities globally competitive and environmentally sustainable.

As members have been hearing, the bill is a major overhaul of the old legislation, almost from top to bottom. It clearly sets out the roles of both the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. The thrust is to simplify the legislation and clarify regulatory authorities which will contribute to economic viability and environmental sustainability in our marine industries.

From the standpoint of fisheries and oceans, the legislation clarifies and strengthens important areas of responsibility, in particular, ensuring the safety of navigation, including pleasure boating, and the protection of the marine environment.

Arriving at this point took many years of work both within government and with stakeholders across the country. Those industries and individuals who must live under the law every day had an unprecedented opportunity to improve the legislation before this final version of the bill was written. From commercial shipping and supertankers to the recreational boating community, everyone had a chance to participate in the review of this important legislation.

What we have before the House today is the government's tangible proof of leadership and of commitment to the marine sector.

Today I want to urge all hon. members to assist us in proceeding quickly with the final track of this much needed reform. When passed by parliament, the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 will be a modernized act, one that will satisfy the regulatory needs of the marine community and marine stakeholders for years to come. It will enable government and stakeholders to work better together to ensure a clean marine environment.

Three of the department's long term priorities and goals are directly related to the bill. The legislation goes a long way toward strengthening our ability to make these goals a reality.

First, there is the priority of maintaining marine safety. This means safe practices on the water which is essential for saving lives and preventing accidents. We are proud of what we have accomplished in the past but we know that the tools in this bill are essential for us to go even further toward ensuring safe, clean waters to which we can all have access.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport said in his speech, marine activity is on the rise very dramatically. We have to be able to respond so that we not only maintain but also improve on past performance. The bill will contribute to enhanced marine safety through new provisions covering vessel traffic services, aids to navigation and clear definition of the department's responsibilities for pleasure craft. It also sets out the department's responsibilities for pollution prevention and response and search and rescue.

The second long term goal of the department relating to the bill is to facilitate marine transportation, commerce and ocean development. The bill is in large part a response to demands for much needed clarification and modernization.

The government demonstrated leadership in undertaking this massive task in consultation with many stakeholders. The result before the House today is a document which, I am confident to say, satisfies the regulatory needs of the marine community within an environmentally sound framework.

Marine traffic is increasing at a tremendous rate, from huge ocean going commercial vessels to the vast increase in the number of recreational vessels on our waters. We need to be in a position to handle these movements safely and efficiently. The bill before the House provides us with the authority to do just that.

Finally, there is the third priority of pollution prevention and response. This means working closely and effectively with industry in fulfilling our commitment to manage and protect the marine and freshwater environment.

The bill will be an invaluable tool in helping us prevent oil spills. It will also help us respond quickly and effectively in case the unthinkable occurs despite all our best efforts. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans will take the lead in this part of the act. DFO is responsible for ensuring that oil handling facilities have oil spill prevention plans in place in an arrangement for response with a coast guard certified response organization to control the consequences just in case. As sometimes happens, the best laid plans go awry.

The bill maintains the legislative basis for an innovative government industry partnership, which now enhances Canada's national oil spill preparedness and response capacity. It also allows Canada to fulfill its international commitments in co-operating with other countries on measures to strengthen our national oil spill preparedness and response system. It allows for greater public scrutiny of the actions that government and industry undertake to protect the environment.

I want to emphasize that when I talk about provisions concerning response to pollution incidents, I do not mean to imply that accidents are the norm in the marine environment. They are not. Rather, my point is to show that this is a balanced and realistic piece of legislation that focuses on safety by emphasizing prevention first and foremost, while at the same time prudently recognizing that one must always be prepared for accidents.

Marine safety relies upon wisdom which dictates that a combined approach is best, an approach that focuses on both prevention and response to save lives and protect the environment.

In closing, let me add a few more general observations on the importance of the bill. The minister and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are guided by three key objectives: safety, efficiency and environmental protection.

The Canadian coast guard plays a key role in ensuring that the department meets these objectives in regard to activities in the marine environment. The coast guard will be instrumental in assisting the department to make sure the new act is implemented smoothly and effectively.

What the bill really provides is an important piece of regulatory framework that allows DFO to get on with doing its job of providing key services that benefit Canadians. The Canadian coast guard is guided by the motto “Safety first, service always”. That is precisely what the bill is all about.

In 1999 the coast guard carried out nearly 6,500 search and rescue operations and saved 3,500 lives at risk. That is an impressive record but of course we want to improve by reducing the need for this kind of performance.

The aim of the bill before us today is to enhance our preventive capacity so fewer lives are endangered in the future. In short, the administrative efficiencies and increased safety aspects of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 will be a benefit for all who work or play on the water.

I call on all members to do their part to make this proposed legislation a reality. Those who come from maritime communities know firsthand the importance of clear rules, safe waters and shared responsibility. The Canada Shipping Act, 2001 covers all of these aspects, strengthening the government's regulatory role where needed while placing increased responsibility on industry and on those who enjoy our waterways to plan for good practices and safer environments.

As I said, the studying and planning that went into the bill have taken many months. Now is the time for the House to take on its responsibility, show leadership and pass the bill as quickly as possible.

Canada Shipping Act, 2001Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Andy Burton Canadian Alliance Skeena, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise this afternoon to address Bill C-14, an act respecting shipping and navigation and to amend the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987 and other acts on behalf of the official opposition.

It is indeed an honour to be standing before the House today giving my maiden speech. Before I express my opinion on Bill C-14, please allow me a moment to say a few words about my riding of Skeena, my constituents and the people who have helped to get me elected.

Let me say thanks to my wife Ann, who is in the gallery today to support me. Without her love and understanding I would not be here today. I want to thank our children, Bart, Joann, Lynne, Joy and Gail and their families also.

My sincere thanks go out to the residents of Skeena in northwestern British Columbia, the beautiful and vast area encompassing almost 250,000 square kilometres stretching from Bella Bella to Atlin, the Queen Charlotte Islands to Telkwa, bordered by Alaska and the Yukon in the northern half. Skeena is also the largest riding in British Columbia and one of the largest in Canada.

I am indeed proud and honoured that the constituents of Skeena chose me to be their representative in parliament. I pledge to do my very best to represent them and their interests in Ottawa.

With regard to Bill C-14, the government's summary of the bill states:

This enactment overhauls and replaces the Canada Shipping Act, other than the portions that concern liability, with modernized legislation that will promote the safety and economic performance of the commercial marine industry as well as ensure the safety of those who use pleasure craft. Key changes to the existing legislation include improvements to provisions to protect and support efficient crews, ensure passenger and vessel safety and protect the environment. A new administrative penalties scheme provides an alternative means for dealing with certain contraventions.

The enactment clarifies the marine responsibilities between the Department of Transport and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The enactment organizes the contents, updates the terminology and streamlines substantive requirements to make the law much clearer and easier to understand.

The enactment amends the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987 to inject greater competition within shipping conferences, to streamline the administration of the Act and to ensure that Canadian legislation covering international liner shipping conferences remains in harmony with that of Canada's major trading partners.

I wonder if it would be possible for the government to be any more vague when contemplating the title of such an important piece of legislation. Who thought of the title, an act respecting shipping and navigation and to amend the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987 and other acts?

Bill C-14 is significant in that it represents a complete overhaul of the updating of Bill C-35, which was first introduced in the 36th parliament and died on the order paper when the election was called. Bill C-35 was rightly entitled the Canada Shipping Act, a bill that has served as a cornerstone for shipping activity in Canadian waters.

The Canada Shipping Act has been in dire need of review for many years. I commend the government for undertaking such a monumental task. Bill C-14 contains some 334 articles and is just under 200 pages in length.

I imagine the introduction of this bill must have been a gratifying moment for its authors. I can appreciate their enthusiasm for getting the bill through the House and to committee, with the hope of finally seeing the bill passed into law. This is evident in that the bill was only introduced on March 1, one day prior to the House rising for the break week and here we are our first day back and Bill C-14 is already at second reading. Enthusiasm I can appreciate. Attempting to railroad the parliamentary process I do not.

The speed with which the government has moved from first to second reading suggests to me one of two things. Either the government does not have complete faith in the legislation that it has introduced and is concerned about it getting a proper review, or the government is so devoid of new legislation that this is the only activity on the horizon so it had better run with it.

I realize the government opposite has become so used to rushing bills through the House that it has become second nature to it, but I fail to see the national crisis that will be averted by the lightning speed passage of this particular bill.

Being a maritime nation, I am confident that there are numerous stakeholders that have been waiting patiently for the introduction and passage of this bill. I say that they have been waiting patiently because they already know what the bill contains as a result of an uncharacteristic move by the Department of Transport.

As a result of the bill's complex nature and the apparent inability of Transport Canada officials to adequately prepare new legislation, the bill was released in draft form to a limited group of stakeholders for review and input, and before the final version was prepared for introduction in the House. I support and appreciate the need for public consultation when it comes to revising and updating our nation's legislation but, as a member of parliament, I take exception when the government deliberately circumvents the parliamentary process by handing out copies of the bill prior to members of parliament even being made aware of its existence.

I am concerned that this has set an extremely dangerous precedent. The continued disregard for parliamentary procedure and attempts to reduce the power of the elected members of the House should not be tolerated.

In yet another fine display of parliamentary disregard, the government has chosen to incorporate changes to the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987 or SCEA into a bill that when introduced last session only dealt with shipping regulations. By only the broadest stretch of the imagination do these two bills have anything in common. It is very convenient for the government however to attach such a contentious amendment to the SCEA bill to Bill C-14, since Bill C-14 is a bill that shipping interests have been calling for.

SCEA is contentious in that it allows ocean shipping lines to collude and form cartels that determine the scheduling and pricing for freight movements into and out of Canadian ports. By its provisions, the shipping lines are exempt from the provisions of the Competition Act, a move that was originally intended to ensure that Canada was well serviced by the shipping lines.

Some groups have come forward and questioned the necessity for the continuation of SCEA. I am confident we will be hearing from those groups as the debate on the bill progresses.

Despite the concerns I have raised regarding the manner in which the bill has been introduced, we will be supporting the referral of the bill to committee where I am confident it will undergo a very detailed paragraph by paragraph review to ensure that the members of the House are satisfied with its contents.

With regard to shipping, I would like to make some comments relating to my riding of Skeena. Skeena has a long history of shipping, principally the ports of Prince Rupert, Kitimat and Stewart. However, I will begin by painting a picture of my riding for the benefit of those members who have not had the pleasure to visit this vast and beautiful area of Canada.

The riding of Skeena is a wonderful area in which to live, rich with fish and wildlife, rich in potential for new mineral resource extraction and new opportunity in value added forestry operations and oil and gas development. One of the best kept Canadian trade secrets is a transportation corridor through northwestern B.C. en route to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the eastern U.S.A. This port-road-rail link, which is underused and is frankly not well known, has the potential to provide tremendous opportunity to large areas of Canada.

The potential is there for shipping much more grain and coal through the Ridley Island terminals of Prince Rupert, as these facilities are vastly underutilized, as is the bulk loading facility at the port of Stewart, Canada's most northerly ice free port. Kitimat also has major dock and shipping facilities.

Transportation is critical to the social and economic fabric of the country, whether it be a seaport, an airport, a rail line or a highway. Transportation infrastructure is an economic engine that not only sustains growth but actually generates economic prosperity.

My riding of Skeena is also home to many aboriginal communities which face intense challenge, as do most other small resource based communities such as Stewart, my home for many years. Although Skeena riding offers a great lifestyle, the economy of today is creating hardship for families. For many it is a difficult place in which to earn a living.

The results from the recent election show very clearly that the west and the north feel alienated and are not satisfied with the treatment being received. Tough love does not cut it. We must be recognized as a contributor to Canada's growth and economy, which we truly are and can be in the future.

An issue of major concern to all northerners, and I suspect most non-urban dwellers right across Canada, is the badly flawed Bill C-68. Hunting is a way of life for most of rural Canada's population. Putting people who have been around firearms all their lives, responsible people, in the position of being criminals is neither acceptable nor right. Changes to this legislation are needed if Canadians are to respect and abide by this law.

My riding of Skeena, in northwestern British Columbia, is currently in the throes of a horrendous economic downturn due in part to circumstances beyond anyone's control. However, the recognition of the difficulties and possible steps toward some solution is a federal government necessity and responsibility.

In today's world market economy, recognition of the impact of pulp and paper prices, lumber prices, gas, oil and metal prices on resource based economies is essential. There are opportunities that must be recognized by government and the federal government should not ignore them.

For instance, in co-operation with the province of B.C., the current moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration in B.C. must be lifted. The potential oil reserves of that area alone are 10 times Hibernia, at 9.8 billion barrels. Gas reserves could exceed 25.9 trillion cubic feet. There is added potential in both the Bowser and the Nechako basins. These options must be pursued and the moratorium on exploration status quo position taken by the government is not acceptable. Development on the east coast was acceptable, why not on the west.

Steps must be taken to revive the mining industry in B.C. The temporary exploration investment tax credit in October's teeny budget provides some incentive for B.C. mining interests to invest in the ailing mineral exploration sector. However aboriginal land claims and permitting processes such as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Department of Fisheries and Oceans concerns have huge ramifications for the mining industry. The government has a role in dealing with such issues. Cutting red tape and turn around time lines for permit approval would assist greatly.

The uncertainty of security of mineral tenure because of the land claims issue creates a major detriment to investment in the mining industry. Investor perceptions are that elected governments, both federal and provincial, have lost control over allocation and management of resources. The implied concept of aboriginal veto power over development must be rejected. Let us keep mining in Canada, not chase it away.

The March 31, 2001 expiry of the Canada-United States softwood lumber agreement requires a strong position from the government. The recent formation of the Canadian Lumber Trade Alliance is a significant move in dealing with a united approach to Canada's position on free trade in softwood lumber with the U.S.A.

B.C. accounts for over 50% of Canada's softwood lumber exports to the U.S. to a value of over $5 billion annually. Some of the producers in my area had no U.S. quota due to Asia being their principal market. That Asian market has collapsed, creating layoffs and shutdowns. In the current agreement, access to a U.S. market is based on historic shipping levels: no history, no quota.

It must be recognized that policy changes are necessary to reach free trade in softwood lumber between the U.S. and Canada. I ask that the government work with the Canadian Lumber Trade Alliance to achieve that goal.

Last year, on the north coast of B.C., the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans weak stock management strategies of upper Skeena coho, which represent only one-quarter of 1% of the total Skeena River fishery, shut down a $30 million sockeye fishery, a tremendous blow to the economy of Prince Rupert and area.

DFO and the minister must be more cognizant of local situations and of the difficulties being caused by allowing the Alaska coho catch to affect access to Skeena River sockeye runs. An agreement needs to be reached on a mutually acceptable reduction of interceptions, that is, a reduction of Canadian interception of Pacific northwest salmon stocks in return for reduced interception of Canadian stocks in Alaska. Life is not easy on the north coast these days and a more realistic implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty would allow our people the opportunity to earn a decent living.

Areas of western Canada have been sadly ignored by the government, especially the northwest. Airports in Smithers, Terrace and Prince Rupert are concerned over the proposed reintroduction of an increased level of emergency response services, whereas levels were reduced only a few years ago. This highlights the concern that the federal government did not bargain in good faith when downloading airports. Safety is paramount, but a realistic approach to the operation of these smaller, low traffic operations is needed to keep them economically viable.

The airport at Terrace has been for some time attempting to have an instrument landing system installed. Such a system would allow 75% of the flights missed due to bad weather conditions to actually be completed. The failure numbers exceed over 200 on an annual basis, at huge cost to the carrier and excessive inconvenience to the travelling public. For example, on my last trip home, last week, after the long journey from Ottawa the flight I was on from Vancouver to Terrace could not land. After actually seeing the runway at Terrace we flew the 500 miles back to Vancouver to stay overnight. Thankfully I was able to get home the next morning but, as I explained, I actually had to fly 1,500 miles to make a 500 mile flight. It was very frustrating for me and for the many other passengers and business people trying to make their way to northwestern B.C.

On another topic, the number of business closures in northwestern B.C. is another indicator of just how troubled the economy is. Over 50 businesses have closed in the city of Prince Rupert in the last few years. Regional rental vacancy rates range from 20% to 75%. The cost to our employment insurance and other social benefits is staggering, and a serious review of programs and policies is badly needed in order to determine a better way to meet the economic development needs and potential of our northern communities.

Having spent most of my life in the north, I am fully aware of the boom and bust cycles that have been so prevalent. Lately we have seen much more of the latter, creating devastation in the communities of the north. Recognition of the west, and especially the northwest, must be a priority for parliament. We want to be a part of Canada and recognized and rewarded as such, not through handouts but through good sound decisions based on common sense and sound economic principles.

The wealth of Canada has traditionally been generated in the north. Government imposed restraints to developing opportunities and creating economic well-being must end.

In closing I will get back to the legislation at hand, Bill C-14, an act respecting shipping and navigation and to amend the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987, and other acts. I will quickly summarize my comments on the bill. I recognize that the Canada Shipping Act was in desperate need of updating and that stakeholders as well as industry have been calling for such amendments. However, I do not see the need to rush the legislation through parliament. It is a large and detailed piece of legislation needing much review and analysis, both in committee and in the House.

I would expect that government backbench members would also want sufficient time to review the bill's contents and consult industry for its opinions. One sitting day between first and second readings is absolutely insufficient time for review and analysis of such an intricate piece of legislation.

In that regard, I lodge this complaint and send the following message to the government: when it rushes legislation through the House, as it has begun to do with Bill C-14, it sends the wrong message to Canadians and to industry, a message of arrogance and complete disregard for democratic parliamentary procedure. It also makes one wonder what the government has to hide and, frankly, what is wrong with the legislation that the government needs to rush it through without proper analysis and debate. As well, to tack on amendments to the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act in this bill is completely irresponsible, since the government well knows its amendments spark much debate and controversy.

The official opposition looks forward to reviewing every detail of this bill in committee. The government can certainly count on that.

Canada Shipping Act, 2001Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I am pleased to comment on Bill C-14, the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

This bill modernizes the legislation that will improve the safety and economic performance of the commercial marine industry as well as ensure the safety of those who use pleasure craft. Key changes to the existing legislation include improvements to provisions to protect and support efficient crews, ensure passenger and vessel safety and protect the environment. A new administrative penalties scheme provides an alternative means for dealing with certain contraventions.

The enactment clarifies the marine responsibilities of the Department of Transport and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The enactment organizes the contents, updates the terminology and streamlines substantive requirements to make the law much clearer and easier to understand.

The enactment amends the Shipping Conferences Act, 1987 to inject greater competition within shipping conferences, to streamline the administration of the act and to ensure that Canadian legislation covering international liner shipping conferences remains in harmony with that of Canada's major trading partners.

There are 14 parts to this bill. The first defines certain terms and provides details on its application.

Part 2 includes provisions with respect to the registration, listing and recording of vessels. This part comes under the responsibility of the Minister of Transport.

Part 3 includes provisions with respect to the qualifications and conditions of employment of crew members. This part also comes under the responsibility of the Department of Transport.

Part 4 includes provisions with respect to the safety of passengers and crew members. This part also comes under the responsibility of the Minister of Transport.

Part 5 includes provisions with respect to navigation services, the creation of VTS zones and the obligations of vessels in search and rescue operations. This part comes under the responsibility of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

Part 6 deals with incidents, accidents and casualties. It determines the right to claim for salvage services, the obligations of vessels in case of collisions and the authority to inquire into causes of death. This part comes under the responsibility of the Department of Transport.

Part 7 has to do with wrecks, specifically their ownership and disposition. This part comes under the responsibility of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Part 8 determines the responsibilities of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with respect to pollution and establishes rules for prevention and intervention.

Part 9 determines the responsibilities of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with respect to pollution prevention.

Part 10, which has to do with pleasure craft, comes under the responsibility of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Part 11 concerns the application of the act and the various powers given the Minister of Transport.

Part 12 includes a variety of provisions, including provisions on proceedings initiated under the act.

Parts 13 and 14 contain transitional provisions and amendments in co-ordination with other laws.

All that to say the this bill, which died on the order paper at the last session, remains, in our opinion, a fine example of the pointlessness of the latest federal elections. Good bills were being studied, of course. This bill on shipping was one, as was Bill S-2 on maritime liability.

Members have obviously understood that the government is reintroducing, with great show, a bill that gathered dust on the shelves of the last parliament and died on the order paper because the federal government decided to call an election that was too early, according to some, and unnecessary, according to others.

I hope that the government is not waving the flags over these bills that are bursting out in great pomp at the start of this parliament. The work was already done. I know that my Bloc Quebecois colleagues worked on the bill, which appears as C-14, identical to what was introduced in the last parliament and debated then.

I must also point out the Minister of Transport said in a press release on March 1, when this bill was introduced, that its intent was to promote growth in the shipping industry.

Obviously, the Bloc Quebecois mentioned on a number of occasions and reiterated its position that the only way to achieve this objective of promoting economic growth in the shipping industry was to establish a real federal shipbuilding policy and to act in support of the shipbuilding industry.

There is nothing in this bill, which is a carbon copy of the legislation introduced in the last parliament, to support the shipbuilding industry. We, the members of the Bloc Quebecois, have made numerous representations to indicate that the industry is experiencing serious difficulties all across Canada.

Shipbuilding used to be a thriving industry. Today, it is only operating at 25% of its capacity. This means that millions of dollars are not being invested in the regions, and that has significant impact, particularly where there is a shipyard, such as in Lévis, on Île-aux-Coudres and in Les Méchins.

Shipbuilding has become a high tech sector that creates thousands of well paid jobs. However, the number of these jobs keeps decreasing. There are currently 2,750 people working in the sector, compared to over 12,000 at one time. Canada's shipbuilding industry urgently requires new support measures. Canada must be able to face international competition and better position itself in this respect.

The frequent media reports on the problems at the Lévis shipyard may give the impression that this shipyard is the only one experiencing difficulties. We can see, both in Vancouver and in Halifax, the lack of federal involvement. The Lévis shipyard is but one example of the federal government's laissez-faire approach in the industry. The fact that all Canadian shipyards are experiencing problems and are already operating below capacity confirms the need for a true federal shipbuilding policy.

Here are the elements that are to the advantage of Canada's shipbuilding industry and that justify federal assistance to that industry.

First, Canada's manpower is qualified and less costly than that of most competing countries.

Second, the majority of Canadian shipyards use very modern equipment and advanced technology: two of them meet the ISO-9001 standard, while four meet the ISO-9002 standard.

Third, shipyard managers and other stakeholders in the industry have felt for at least ten years that the federal government has abandoned them and they claim that they are penalized compared to other sectors, including the aerospace industry.

Fourth, with direct access to three oceans and to the world's longest inland waterway, shipbuilders and shipowners wonder why Canada chose to let the industry down.

Fifth, marine transportation is the most economical and environmentally friendly means of transportation.

Sixth, a number of shipyards are surviving at the present time because of provincial government intervention, although this is an area of federal jurisdiction. Quebec has tax measures, including a tax credit; Nova Scotia has a specific program of financial guarantees; and British Columbia has encouraged the acceleration of its aluminum ferry program.

Seventh, Canada's shipbuilding industry is at a disadvantage compared to its Asian competitors who receive government subsidies of up to 30% of the amount of their contracts, the Europeans who receive about 9%, and the Americans who benefit from protectionist measures. Yet Canada has neither subsidies nor protectionist measures; we have missed the boat.

On October 14, 1999, the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-213, on shipbuilding. His bill provided a clear illustration of the framework required to assist the shipbuilding industry, as indeed it must be assisted. It drew upon the consensual demands from the various stakeholders in the industry, from the unions to the Shipbuilding Association of Canada.

Believe it or not, the Liberal government succeeded in declaring Bill C-213 non-votable. This bill, intended as it was to promote shipbuilding in Canada and to enhance the competitive capacity of Canadian shipyards, was deferred and struck from the order paper by the government of the Liberal party.

Today, I would like to list the advantages that were offered by Bill C-213 and continue to be concerns for the industry and the major stakeholders.

First, Bill C-213 called for a loan and loan guarantee program, something for which the Bloc Quebecois is still calling. Canada's shipbuilding industry everywhere ought to be able to benefit from loan guarantees.

More specifically, the bill called for the establishment of a program whereby a maximum of 87.5% of the money borrowed by a company from financial institutions to purchase a commercial ship that would be built in a shipyard located in Canada would be guaranteed by the federal government in the event of default in the repayment of the loan, bear a rate of interest comparable to that available for loans from financial institutions to large and financially strong corporations, and be repayable on terms comparable to those usually granted by financial institutions to large and financially strong corporations for the repayment of their loan. Therefore, nothing beyond what other major industries in Canada could claim was asked.

Second, Bill C-213 sought to have new vessels excluded from the lend-lease regulations. Revenue Canada's lend-lease regulations eliminate lend-lease purchase of ships in Canada. Revenue Canada significantly reduces the amounts that may be deducted annually from taxable revenue as depreciation in the case of lend-lease financing. Under the terms of lend-lease, only the notional principal of the loan may enter into the calculation of the depreciation.

As interest primarily is repaid in the first years of the lease, the depreciation permitted is minimal. It is therefore carried over from the first years to the final years of the useful life of the ship, something that runs contrary to the economic realities of the owner operator, whose major expenses come primarily in the first years, with things improving in the final years.

By increasing from the outset the tax burden of shipowners who use the lend-lease option, Revenue Canada's lend-lease regulations make it rather unappealing if not squarely uneconomic to use a lend-lease option to buy and finance a ship built in Canada. More specifically, the bill proposed to amend the provisions of the Income Tax Act and of its regulations to make tax provisions on lend-lease more beneficial when buying a ship built by a shipyard located in Canada.

The third major component of Bill C-213 was the creation of a refundable tax credit as asked, again, by stakeholders and the industry.

In 1997, the government of Quebec announced tax incentives to stimulate the shipping industry. These incentives are based on a tax credit that the federal government should use as a model. The Quebec government raised the refundable tax credit for shipbuilding, around since 1996, from 40% to 50%. It also introduced a tax credit for the conversion or major refitting of ships, and it extended this measure to oil rigs, in addition to making some adjustments to the measure to reduce capital taxes.

The Quebec tax policy is essentially based on a tax credit. Eligible expenses include primarily salaries relating to the building of a ship, drawings and specifications, and also half of the costs of contracts relating to construction. This tax credit amounts to 50% of eligible expenses, but it cannot exceed by more than 20% the costs at the end of a taxation year that have been incurred to build the ship. A tax credit for similar eligible expenses is also provided for the conversion or major refitting of ships.

The Liberal government refuses to harmonize federal tax measures with those of Quebec, as it agreed to do, among others, for the motion picture and television production industry. By taxing provincial tax benefits granted to the shipbuilding industry, Ottawa eliminates the positive effect of the deductions granted by Quebec to stimulate the industry. Not only does Ottawa not bother to come up with more beneficial measures, it also adversely affects the policy put forward by the Quebec government.

People often say “If you are not able to help, quit always making matters worse”. That is what the federal government is doing right now: it is not helping the industry and it is making matters worse for this industry where Quebec's tax credit is concerned.

Bill C-213 specifically suggested amending the provisions of the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations in order to allow owners of vessels and shipyards a refundable tax credit for a portion of the costs relating to the construction or refit of a commercial ship in a shipyard located in Canada or the conversion of a ship in such a shipyard. Under Bill C-213, these people could have obtained tax credits.

Once again, I repeat, the Liberal government decided to reject this bill. It will not debate it and there will not be a vote. This wonderful initiative by the brilliant Bloc Quebecois member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière has therefore been put off indefinitely. It will not be used by the government. Once again, the Government of Canada is passing up a wonderful opportunity to breathe new life into the shipbuilding industry, which was the pride of Canada and which is now operating at only 25% of its capacity.

Although the Bloc Quebecois agrees with the reference of Bill C-14 to committee for discussion, we regret that the government did not take the opportunity to re-examine this text which had already been considered in the last parliament and which involved no work on the government's part. It could at least have used the opportunity to add a complete chapter on assistance for shipbuilding, which would have eased the plight of this industry in Canada.

Canada Shipping Act, 2001Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to say a few words today about Bill C-14, the Canada Shipping Act.

The minister's press release when he introduced the bill stated that the bill would update, modernize and streamline Canada's marine law, and that it would clarify the roles of the Department of Transport and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The minister indicated that the bill would allow the entire marine community to operate in a manner that is safer, more efficient, environmentally sound and responsive to the needs of Canadians in a global community and in a global economy. Those are aims that we in this party can support.

The Canada Shipping Act also promotes the safety and economic performance of the marine industry and ensures the safety of those who use pleasure craft. Key changes include improvements to provisions that protect and support crews, ensure passenger and vessel safety, and protect the marine environment from damage due to navigation and shipping activities. We support all those aims and objectives as well. We hope the bill will be able to fulfil what it maintains it will.

The government claims it has consulted widely with all the stakeholders in the development of the Canada Shipping Act. Generally speaking that is very good since often we see legislation come before the House and pass without consultation with the people most directly affected by it.

The bill amends the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987. Shipping conferences, as we are all aware, are composed of groups of shipping lines operating collectively under an agreement to provide scheduled service on specific trade routes based on agreed rates and services.

Conferences play an important role in Canada's foreign trade by providing stability and reliability in shipping services for Canadian shippers, importers and exporters.

The proposed amendments to the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987 are designed to encourage greater competition and generally streamline the administration of the act. The amendments are to be supported because they bring the legislation more in line with that of our major shipping partners.

As I stated earlier, the Canada Shipping Act clarifies the roles of Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. That is very important and should not be lost on the maritime community. From now on the Department of Transport will be responsible for all commercial vessels regardless of size. Previously, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans handled matters with regard to small commercial vessels.

The Department of Transport will now create an automated small vessel registry tailored to the needs of small commercial vessels, that is vessels under 12 metres in length which will not require a tonnage measurement certificate.

That will be a change for many fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador because many of our commercial fishing vessels are under 35 feet in length. While most people consider vessels of that size to be inshore fishing vessels, the reality in Newfoundland waters is that many of these vessels fish, especially for crab, in waters that are more than 100 miles offshore.

The current rules of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will not allow fishermen with certain types of fishing licences to lengthen or build larger boats. Given the fierce competition for very limited fish and crab resources, that has meant that many small inshore vessels operate in waters far offshore at considerable risk to life and limb.

I would be curious to know if the transport department is aware of these facts and if it intends to make any changes. I realize that vessel size restrictions have to do with the control of fishing licences and the conservation of fish stocks, but reality has outstripped theory in that area. Simply put, we have too many vessels under 35 feet in length fishing in waters too far offshore. I would contend that safety, in addition to fisheries conservation, must be a major consideration here.

I also hope the new vessel registry will not become a bureaucratic nightmare for fishermen and small tour boat operators who must comply with the requirements of the act. We are all too familiar with the long gun registry system which was supposed to be simple and efficient in its operation. We all know what can occur on the journey between theory and reality.

Bill C-14 introduces new enforcement tools of an administrative nature, monetary penalties and assurances of compliance with Transport Canada retaining the right to prosecute if necessary. The theory is that enforcement practice will eliminate the need to go to court in all but the most critical of cases. Central to the enforcement approach will be the appointment of an adjudicator who will have the power to review administrative decisions by the minister that impose penalties or affect the status of documents issued by the minister.

In this case I hope the appointment of an adjudicator will not be done in any sort of partisan way. It is essential that people holding these offices be seen as experts in the field. To date, the record of the government in making appointments has been very partisan. I hope that will not be the case here.

Under Bill C-14, the department of fisheries, through the Canadian Coast Guard, will continue its responsibility for marine communication and tracking services, marine navigational aids, search and rescue, shipwreck, and pollution prevention and response. DFO will derive powers from the act to protect shipwrecks of historical significance in Canadian waters. The department of fisheries will also maintain its current responsibility for all aspects of pleasure craft, including construction standards, safety equipment, licensing and the discharge of sewage.

I assume that the splitting of jurisdictions between the transport department and DFO meets with the approval of all stakeholders involved. If not, I am sure I will be informed by the fishermen's union and other representatives of the Newfoundland fishing industry. If they have major concerns there will be further opportunity in committee to seek clarification or amendments to the bill.

The bottom line on Bill C-14 is that it is to modernize Canada's shipping legislation and make its shipping conference legislation more compatible with that of our major trading partners. I have no problem with that and I generally support the thrust of the legislation.

Earlier when I referenced Transport Canada's new small vessel registry, I pointed out my concern about the size and safety of Newfoundland's small fishing vessels which operate long distances offshore. I have another couple of concerns.

As I mentioned earlier, the Canadian Coast Guard will have jurisdiction over marine traffic and pollution. To help with that, the armed forces maritime patrol aircraft have been used extensively to patrol waters inside our 200 mile limit. The recent news from the defence department that the number of flights will be reduced was not well received in Atlantic Canada. I would ask the parliamentary assistant to take that concern to the Minister of Transport. Having jurisdiction over pollution is one thing; being informed of high seas polluters in a timely manner is another. There are rules in the bill about the discharge of waste at sea, but all the rules in the world will not help if we lose the ability to keep track of polluters.

The federal government's recent cutting back of the number of Aurora aircraft doing patrolled surveillance, especially around the Atlantic Canada area, did nothing to help what the Minister of Transport is trying to do in the bill. As I said earlier, we can have all the fancy rules and regulations we want contained in a bill, but if we do not have enforcement backup and enforcement potential then everything we say in a bill like this is all for naught.

We have to keep track of these high seas polluters. Every year thousands if not tens of thousands of seabirds wash ashore. Invariably they are covered in oil. However, most of the casualties among our fish and waterfowl populations do not come from the dramatic breakup of an oil tanker at sea, although we see that reported a lot in the news. An oil tanker breaks up at sea and then for days and days the media will cover how waterfowl, seals and birds of all kinds are being washed ashore covered in oil.

However, most of the casualties among our fish and waterfowl do not occur because oil tankers happen to break up at sea. Most of the damage is done quietly at sea by these unscrupulous sea captains, these bandits, these pirates, flushing their bilges at sea in contravention of the act. We need more surveillance flights around the Grand Banks area, not less. The Grand Banks happens to be the most environmentally sensitive area in the world for fish spawning.

However, here we have the federal government coming in with a bill that talks about polluters and pollution at sea when two weeks ago we had an announcement by the minister of defence in which he said the government was cutting back on patrols in these very areas, that it was cutting back on Aurora aircraft. What kind of scam and sham is that? We can have all kinds of fancy bills coming into the House, but if we have one department working against the other department they serve no purpose whatsoever.

These unscrupulous sea captains have to be caught and dealt with in regard to all the damage they have done. They have to be brought into the courts and fines have to be doubled and tripled. The penalties have to be doubled and tripled for people who do that kind of thing. We are needing more surveillance, not less, as the minister of defence is cutting back on the number of aircraft patrolling the waters.

The Canada Shipping Act can contain all the best intentions in the world and can promote modern enforcement methods, but if we cannot in a timely manner catch these people in the act, it has no effect at all. After all, these people are out there in ships, not rockets. We should be able to catch a big oil tanker that is plying the waters around the Grand Banks in Newfoundland and blowing its bilges at sea. We should be able to catch these people in a timely manner by using aircraft, but how can we do it when the minister of defence has cut back on the number of patrols?

As I said a moment ago, we can have all kinds of well meaning legislation but if it is ineffective then there is not much point in bringing it in here.

Another concern I have is that although we are busy updating and modernizing our shipping legislation, most of the ships doing the shipping are built elsewhere in the world. After World War II, I believe Canada had the third largest navy in the world after the United States and Great Britain. During those years we were heavily involved in supplying Britain and Europe with war supplies by sea. We had a lot of ships and we built a lot of ships, but not any more. Canada's shipbuilding policy is virtually non-existent.

I am saddened that as a trading nation we are not maximizing our shipbuilding potential. That is too bad because we have a lot of potential in the country with which to develop a great shipbuilding nation. The current Minister of Industry has undertaken to do a review of this. I sincerely hope he comes up with something practical, something quick, and something soon as many of our shipyards are pretty well on their last legs. It is a disgrace that a trading nation like Canada, with all of its ports and its endless coastlines, does not have a modern, competitive shipbuilding industry.

I support this legislation the minister has brought in today. I hope the minister will pay some attention to some of the concerns I have raised, especially as they pertain to the enforcement of the act, to polluters at sea and to the unscrupulous seagoing captains who blow their bilges at sea. I sincerely hope that the Minister of Transport, with the Minister of National Defence, can develop some kind of enforcement policy to make sure that these people are held accountable for the deeds they become involved in.

Canada Shipping Act, 2001Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Werner Schmidt Canadian Alliance Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was very impressed with the detailed knowledge the hon. member demonstrated in his remarks with respect to the bill before the House, Bill C-14. The demonstration of his knowledge of the shipping industry, shipbuilding and marine life on the east coast was beneficial for all of us, particularly his advice for the Minister of Transport. I congratulate him for that.

I would like to ask him about a particular part of the bill which apparently now includes an amendment that was not there when the bill was presented sometime last year, I believe. I am referring to the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act. I notice that this particular addition to the bill is really an add-on. It looks almost as if it is sort of tacked on, as if somebody had a bright idea and thought that maybe the government had better put this in there because it wanted to get this thing done.

I would like to ask him if he could address some remarks to that particular part of the bill, which really suggests that some of the amendments do not in fact meet the concerns and wishes of the stakeholders involved in the shipping industry. In fact, some of them are suggesting that many of those controls now being suggested in that particular part of the bill should in fact be reviewed so that they could have greater freedom to enter into contracts directly with shipping companies and also with shipping.

Could the hon. member refer to that part of the bill and give us some advice?

Canada Shipping Act, 2001Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question and sincerely wish I could give him some advice in that area. I myself have been waiting to get the bill before committee in order to delve into a number of these areas. A number of people in the shipbuilding industry have contacted me recently with respect to some of these exemptions the hon. member is talking about.

Shipping conferences, as we are all aware, are composed of groups of shipping lines which operate collectively under an agreement to provide scheduled services on these trade routes based on agreed rates. I understand that some of the people involved in the shipping industry are very concerned about that and want to talk about it. I would have been a little more detailed in my remarks in that area if I knew anything more that I could impart to the hon. gentleman. However, I do not and I am waiting to get before committee myself to have a go at this with the minister and to satisfy the concerns of the people who have contacted me in regard to this.

Canada Shipping Act, 2001Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to get the hon. member to expand a little on one of the things he alluded to, which was the environment and how this bill would help protect our marine environment. This bill was designed to come into line with what the Americans are doing.

Would the member comment on whether he thinks it brings us up to par or is better than what they are doing and indeed deals with the issue of protecting our marine environment?