Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-14 on behalf of my party. Bill C-14 is an act respecting shipping and navigation and to amend the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987 and other Acts.
For the benefit of those Canadians watching television, I will summarize the purpose of the bill.
This quote is taken directly from the bill. It 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.
On this side of the House, we feel that these are all good and supportable directions for the legislation to take. As the quote outlines, Bill C-14 is a significant piece of legislation. I am told the departmental officials have worked on this for some time in an attempt to perfect it.
As the members in the House know the bill was originally introduced in the House as Bill C-35, which died on the order paper in the 36th parliament when the election was called. Bill C-35 did not go so far as to include the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act amendments. It only dealt with the regulatory changes affecting the industry.
This bill contains some 334 clauses and is just under 200 pages long. I reiterate that obviously the department officials have worked on this for some time. We would have appreciated more time to go through it in a little more detail and perhaps absorb it a little better, however we were not allowed that time.
Bill C-14 was introduced at first reading on March 1. It went to second reading the following week and was sent to committee shortly thereafter. As I said earlier, it was a very speedy process and I would have to wonder why.
The committee stage for this bill was a journey in itself. We heard the departmental officials give testimony and briefings regarding the bill and heard from witnesses in the industry as well. Some members may also have been visited by lobbyists from the shipping conferences exemption side of the bill urging support for the bill without amendment.
All of this happened in short order and the bill moved along the process quite smoothly until it came to the clause by clause examination. The opposition, and even some Liberal members of the committee, were not too impressed at the lack of organization by the department when presenting amendments.
We entertained 27 separate amendments at committee. This may not seem excessive but when they are dumped on your lap at the beginning of a meeting it certainly is a handful. We certainly did not appreciate such short notice nor did we appreciate not having the opportunity to review these amendments beforehand.
As many members know, clause by clause can be a rather tedious venture at the best of times, but with many last minute amendments of a detailed nature to a bill which deals mainly with regulations, it makes the process all the more taxing.
Up until that time, we thought highly of the officials for undertaking such a monumental task as to redraft such a large and detailed act. However being so disorganized as to drop those changes in the committee's lap at the last minute suggested either that the bill was possibly not ready for the floor of the House when it was first introduced or the drafters of the bill did not take the time to check their work.
Either way, as the government official put it, 27 minor amendments were put to committee and frustrated the entire process. The amendments were so poorly written that the parliamentary secretary had to verbally amend an amendment on the fly.
This is not acceptable. For members of parliament to truly have input in the process of making laws in the country, we need to ensure that the process is properly seen to.
We are now at third reading where amendments can be made to the bill at hand. We see today that there are no further amendments of the bill. At least right now it appears that way. However I would not be surprised, if the process allowed for it, if we were presented with last minute amendments.
I know the Speaker made a recent ruling preventing frivolous amendments, but I say to the hon. members in this Chamber today, does that mean that committee now becomes a mockery? I hope not.
This may be a phenomenon that only occurs with the transport department. I do not know. However I do know that I did not care for it and I do not think other members of the committee cared for it either.
With regard to the bill, at present the official opposition supports the bill in its current form. As I said earlier, we did have some concerns about the speed of the process, but overall the general direction of the bill is positive and it needed to be done.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me the leeway to express my frustrations with the process. I would urge the members opposite, and should departmental officials be watching today, that to have good law making in Canada we have to get down to the business of drafting both in committee and in the House and at report stage, to ensure that such abuses of the process which occurred in this committee no longer happen.
In closing, overall we support the general direction and the long overdue overhaul of the legislation. We have some real concerns over the need to fast track this lengthy bill and would have preferred more time to analyze it in detail.