Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-14, the Canada Shipping Act.
I would have liked to have been able to put some questions to the hon. member from the Bloc Quebecois who spoke earlier on the bill. I thank him for restoring my faith a little in the Bloc Quebecois after that diatribe from his colleague this morning on Bill C-233. I was shocked and I thought surely those members do not do this on everything. I felt that perhaps they were slipping away. He has partially restored my faith by sticking to the subject and speaking with great passion and interest on something that has certainly a big impact on his province.
The bill is really two bills in one. It sounds like one of those old Doublemint chewing gum TV commercials. We get two for our money. First, there is the Canada Shipping Act which is an old bill. Like many things the government has done in the past, it brings forward legislation and tells us when it is introduced that it is so important that the House must get going. It is so concerned about its legislation and feels it is so urgent to get it through that it has brought in closure 70 times since I have been in the House.
In the past the government brought forward a lot of legislation like the Canada Shipping Act. It has come forward with legislation and then diddle around with it until the clock ran out. It would either prorogue the House to get rid of legislation it knew was bad and was embarrassed by or, as it has done twice since I have been here, prematurely call an election which also torpedoed its own bills.
I cannot say I blame the government. Some of its bills are pretty bad and should be torpedoed. If I may use an analogy, it is interesting to use torpedo when we are talking about a shipping act. I have to be careful because we have enough problems with our shipping act right now without starting to talk about things of that nature.
As I have mentioned, the bill has two parts. One is the Canada Shipping Act which is regulatory in nature. The other one is the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act which is primarily a financial consideration. This was what the hon. member spoke to at some length. Coming from Quebec he mentioned his concern about shipbuilding, about trying to get more ships built in Canada or at least in his province, and having better tax flows in Quebec and from the federal government toward the shipbuilding industry. Certainly we want to see it preserved in British Columbia. He did make one particular reference to shipbuilding in British Columbia that I will come back to in a couple of minutes.
The Shipping Conferences Exemption Act is primarily financial in nature. It is something we should look at, particularly with regard to Quebec and funding for shipbuilding there. Part of the problem of getting funding is the collection of taxes and since this is the shipping act we should be looking at the shipping industry.
In Quebec there is a company known as Canada Steamship Lines which ironically is owned by our own Minister of Finance. He is one of the principals in this company. It is a very big company, a huge company with tremendous assets.
I would imagine that taxation on those assets would provide tremendous revenues for the federal government. Hopefully in its compassion it would provide some to Quebec and other regions to help with the shipbuilding industry. Canadians should be very proud of our shipbuilding industry, which is slowly slipping away from us.
As the hon. member stated, Quebec is putting quite a bit of money into this area already. There are many demands on tax dollars as we all know. Whenever Quebec does that, it is draining it from other areas where it perhaps would like to use it. Is it not ironic that the man in charge of raising taxes, who has such a wonderful asset located in the province of Quebec, has all those ships registered in other countries so that no taxes are paid on them in Quebec and in Canada? I was hoping to have the opportunity to ask the hon. member if he felt that was fair.
Before we start talking about the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, we should examine some of the exemptions that we already have. We have a Canadian based company that has all its ships registered in foreign ports to specifically avoid paying fair taxes in Canada toward the very industry that spawned those ships that are hidden away in foreign ports. I would love to hear the hon. member's comments on that. Perhaps under questions and comments he may be able to shed some light on his feelings in that regard.
The hon. member also mentioned British Columbia when talking about shipbuilding which has a great shipbuilding industry as well. We are very proud of it. Some tremendous ships have been built and there is the capacity to continue doing so long into the future. Certainly we like to be diversified in British Columbia. We have some problems out there right now, aside from government, in terms of employment, our industry and our economy.
If one flies over the province of British Columbia one may wonder if there are any towns, particularly in the interior. All one sees are forests. We are a province covered in great stands of timber. My region particularly has a very forestry dependent economy. We have had a great deal of trouble in our province because of the softwood lumber quota system. It has been absolutely devastating.
As we come to the end of the five year term we are now looking at the possibility of trade wars. The Americans have basically put us on notice that they intend to put countervailing duties in place, tariffs, to devastate an industry upon which British Columbia depends.
It would be excellent to get our shipbuilding industry and many other things going to diversify the economy in British Columbia and to soften at least some of the impact we will likely look at because of future problems with softwood lumber.
Notwithstanding that we have gone through the World Trade Organization's dispute settlement mechanisms three times to deal with the fact that Americans are making false claims against our product in British Columbia, they still end up threatening to do it yet again. It is very expensive for both the government and the industry to deal with these charges. I would like to see the shipbuilding industry flourish in British Columbia.
When the hon. member mentioned shipbuilding in British Columbia he made specific reference to ongoing aluminum shipbuilding, which is a bit of a sore point to British Columbians right now. The notorious aluminum shipbuilding involved the provincial government building three aluminum fast ferries to serve as a link between the mainland and Vancouver Island. Notwithstanding the incredible abilities and dedication of the shipbuilding industry in British Columbia, they were a tremendous anomaly. These things were an unmitigated disaster.
I spoke earlier about the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act being financial in nature. We will probably never know the final figure, but the aluminum ferries the government saw fit to build have blown somewhere between half a billion and a billion dollars.
Do we know where the ferries are? They are tied up. The government is trying to sell them. The last I heard, it was trying to get $35 million for them. There are a lot of people in British Columbia who feel so incensed about this that they came to me with an idea as to how we can deal with it. They suggested that rather than trying to sell the ferries, even for $35 million, we should donate them to the government of British Columbia because it is about to be outgoing. As it has its final caucus meeting it might consider getting on board one of the ferries and heading west at a high rate of speed. We will see how sound they are once they get out on the open ocean.
I apologize to the hon. member from the Conservative Party. I realize it is a different type of pollution that we would be sending into the marine environment, but I hope he would agree that it might be a worthy exemption for this and perhaps we can let it go. Maybe it would not be quite as bilious as an oil slick. If it is we will need to boom it up, chain it up, take it away and hope that it never comes back again.
Another thing I am concerned about is that the bill is being rammed through in such a hurry. The government, as I mentioned earlier, has used closure so many times to rush forward bills and here is yet another one it is rushing forward. As the hon. member from the Conservative Party said, there are so many other things that need to be done, both in conjunction with this and with other issues entirely.
In terms of defence, at a time when we are talking about marine safety and the environment and doing a better job of looking after our oceans and our coastlines, the government is cutting down on patrols by the military off our coasts to ensure there is enforcement of our regulations and that the coastline is properly protected.
It is a little hard to do some of the things that are necessary in the marine environment with some of the equipment we have provided to our military. Sea King helicopters are a prime example. It would be appropriate if perhaps the Liberal caucus one day arranged for a little tour over the ocean, in rough weather, ideally, so it could get a sense of what it is really like in a Sea King helicopter. I think that would be good for a variety of reasons. I will let your imagination decide what the possible advantages might be.
There are so many other things that are such a priority to Canadians that one must wonder why the government is rushing forth with a bill like this. The bill failed before because the government let it sit there. It had the opportunity to bring it forward but obviously it was not a priority for it. It did the same thing with the Young Offenders Act.
From 1997 right up until the election call the Minister of Justice said that the Young Offenders Act was her highest priority. My God, if that is her highest priority I would hate to think what her low priorities are. Somehow this bill is a priority for the Liberal government when there are still things like the Young Offenders Act to be dealt with.
There are things like the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. This morning we talked about a simple amendment that could make it much better but the government has absolutely no patience for a good amendment that was put forward by my colleague from Surrey North. It just wants to rush forward with something like this, which it obviously thinks has a much higher priority than the basic rights of victims. I think that is rather shameful.
We have organized crime in the country, particularly in Quebec. We talked about it this morning. The hon. member from Quebec, who talked about the Canada Shipping Act, is, I am sure, also concerned about organized crime. It is a problem in the province of Quebec and all across the country. Why is the government not bringing forward legislation that deals with organized crime as a priority instead of Bill C-14? It is sometimes very confusing as to what the government is really concerned about.
When we start talking about the marine system, the ports themselves are very much affected by federal legislation dealing with labour. We have had ports shut down on both our coasts. We have had them in labour strikes in Quebec. What does the government do about labour strikes? It waits until the whole thing shuts down. As if our poor farmers on the prairies do not have enough problems, if a port on either the east coast or west coast is closed down they are devastated. As bad off as they are now, they are 100 times worse off after a port gets shut down.
The government has done absolutely nothing to introduce legislation that would put into place some form of dispute settlement mechanism to ensure a fair settlement for workers in the ports and other places without having a labour disruption that is devastating to people all across the country. It is absolutely shameful. It is puzzling why the government is in such a rush with this bill when it is passing up on many other areas as well.
This bill is a transport issue put out by the Minister of Transport. What about the other things in transport that need to be dealt with? We are talking about regulations to make the marine environment a lot safer.
The hon. member from the Conservative Party talked about environmental issues. He specifically mentioned the freighters that flush their tanks out in the ocean and what a despicable thing that is. However VIA Rail, the government owned passenger rail system, has no holding tanks in any of its passenger rail cars. As they travel down the track, everything goes straight out onto the tracks.
There have been a lot of complaints already from workers from both CN and CP who work on the rails. They are very concerned about their safety because of what they must in some cases work in on the rails, which is quite disgusting, and the environmental problems that it brings forth. Never mind the poor fishermen on the river underneath a train trestle as a VIA Rail passenger train happens to go over it. That makes quite a statement. It is almost applicable coming from the Liberal government. I hear them firing up now. It is a kind of statement on that poor fisherman, “You-know-what on you”. There are so many things the minister could be working on instead of this bill.
Air Canada is an irony for both the east and west coast. We have regulatory agencies right now telling Air Canada it cannot cut its fares as much as it has done to certain parts of Atlantic Canada because it is anti-competitive. Ironically, at the same time they are telling Air Canada it must stop gouging British Columbians so much and that it must cut fares on some of its routes because it is overpricing and gouging Canadians.
Where is the regulation to deal with that? That is much more harmful to Canadians right across the country at this time. We need a general overhaul of the air regulatory system. Much of this bill is regulatory in nature. When there are so many things of a regulatory nature that need to done, why are we focusing so much time on this one while disregarding all the other things that need to be done?
The bill certainly deals with some issues that have worth. We think there could be a lot of improvements. As we have pointed out to many people, we do not write the legislation. Any legislation we ever get, good or bad, must come from the government. There is no other way. Sure, we can try a private member's bill, but we saw what happened this morning on that. The hon. member for Surrey North came out with a very good piece of potential legislation that was slapped down and made non-votable. Therefore, it automatically dies no matter how good the arguments that are brought forward.
We must live with legislation brought forward by the government any time something needs to be changed. If we need a change to the Young Offenders Act we need a piece of legislation from the government, even if it is bad. We need that to be the impetus to get us to start. We can then try two things, as we will do with this bill. We can first bring the attention of the public to the shortcomings of the bill. We can consult with the public, find out their concerns and listen to the changes they think are necessary. Once the bill gets to committee we can ensure that a consultative process goes on and that, ideally, the government listens to what comes in.
I have always found this an irony in the past. I remember one transport bill where over 100 witnesses appeared before the committee. There was a clause dealing with the dispute settlement mechanism that most witnesses found offensive. It happened on the Canada Transportation Act. I do not know the exact number, but over 90% of the witnesses who came forward were very clear that they did not want that clause in the agreement and he government ignored them. This begs me to ask why it bothered to consult. Why did it spend all the money and waste the time of this parliament consulting if it does not listen to what Canadians say?
We will support getting the bill through second reading so it gets to committee, where we hope the government will do the consultative process. We hope this time it will also listen to people who come forward to point out things that need to be changed in the bill, and that it will support the amendments no matter where they come from.
The government can bring in its own amendments or accept our amendments, but it should recognize that we are not here for partisan purposes. Once bills get back to the House they are here to serve Canadians, and we need to do that together. I hope government members will work with us in committee to ensure that the bills and the legislation reflect the needs and wishes of Canadians.