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House of Commons Hansard #55 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liability.

Topics

Business Of The House

10 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions between parties in the House and I believe you would find unanimous consent that Bill S-5 be considered at all stages today, that is second reading, committee of the whole, report stage and third reading.

Business Of The House

10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this fashion?

Business Of The House

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Blue Water Bridge Authority ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Edmonton West Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan Liberalfor the Minister of Transport

moved that Bill S-5, an act to amend the Blue Water Bridge Authority Act, be read the second time and, by unanimous consent, referred to a committee of the whole.

Blue Water Bridge Authority ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Algoma—Manitoulin Ontario

Liberal

Brent St. Denis LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would like to ask for consent to share my time with the member for Sarnia—Lambton.

Blue Water Bridge Authority ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed that the hon. member split his time with the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton?

Blue Water Bridge Authority ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Blue Water Bridge Authority ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak at second reading on the proposed legislation, an act to amend the Blue Water Bridge Authority Act.

The proposed legislation amends the Blue Water Bridge Act of 1964 by updating the ability of the Blue Water Bridge Authority to borrow funds.

For those members who may not know, the Blue Water Bridge connects Point Edward, which is near Sarnia, Ontario, with Port Huron, Michigan. It joins Ontario Highway 402 to Michigan Highway Interstates 69 and 94 on the U.S. side.

The Blue Water Bridge is the second largest Canada-U.S. gateway in terms of exports and the second busiest crossing for trucks. An average of 14,000 vehicles per day cross the Blue Water Bridge and on a busy day as many as 20,000 vehicles, including well over 6,000 trucks, may cross this international bridge.

The Blue Water Bridge is Canada's fastest growing crossing with traffic increases of about 8% per year. The bridge is primarily a long distance crossing. I am told that approximately 250,000 to 300,000 trucks per month from the province of Quebec alone cross this bridge heading to the United States. Obviously this crossing is important to many of our provinces, not just Ontario.

In 1992, 50 years after the bridge was first opened for traffic, an international task force studying the Blue Water Bridge crossing concluded that the existing bridge was operating in excess of its designed capacity and that a second bridge should be built.

On July 22, 1997, a second Blue Water Bridge span was open to traffic. Once the new bridge was opened, the original 60 year old bridge was temporarily closed for much needed rehabilitation.

The Blue Water Bridge Authority has owned and operated the Canadian half of the bridge since the early 1960s. The authority was created by the federal government by an act respecting the international bridge over the St. Clair river known as the Blue Water Bridge. This act was proclaimed on May 21, 1964.

The Blue Water Bridge Authority is a public body basically independent of the crown operating at arm's length. It is not an agent or employee of the crown and the crown is therefore not liable for its debt. It receives no federal funding.

The governor in council appoints the directors of the authority and the reporting mechanism is through Transport Canada.

As I previously indicated, the purpose of the amendment to the Blue Water Bridge Act of 1964 is to update the ability of the Blue Water Bridge Authority to borrow funds. The current act limits the authority to borrow funds when the bond interest rate is less than or equal to 6.5%. This restriction is not in keeping with current practice.

Other international bridges have an established maximum borrowing limit. The amendment proposes a maximum borrowing limit of $125 million which would be adequate to handle its long term debt, currently totalling approximately $60 million, and its multiyear capital plan totalling an additional $55 million.

The Blue Water Bridge Authority is continually looking for ways to improve its operation and to make its crossing as efficient and as safe as possible. Its capital plan identifies major modifications to the terminal layout to improve the flow of traffic and to address the safety concerns identified by independent consultants.

Without the passage of the legislation, the authority will be unable to borrow the necessary funds to make these improvements. The proposed legislation stipulates that all borrowing transactions are subject to the approval of the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Transport. The bill also reinforces that the federal government is not liable for any borrowing by the authority.

The authority is not for profit. Its revenues come primarily from bridge tolls but it also has rental income from things like the duty free shop and from broker establishments at the crossing.

The proposed legislation to amend the Blue Water Bridge Authority Act is important for Canada's economic viability and competitiveness. With the Canada-U.S. trade growing at an average annual pace of more than 10%, we cannot afford to ignore the crucial economic role that our international border crossings play in facilitating the movement of this trade.

I hope all members will join me in giving expeditious consideration to this important initiative. The Blue Water Bridge Authority needs the legislation in order to continue to operate and to maintain this important transportation link efficiently and to make capital improvements in the most cost effective manner possible.

Blue Water Bridge Authority ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to speak to Bill S-5 and to urge its speedy passage.

The bill is in essence a private bill in that it affects one operation, in this case the powers of the board of directors consisting of four people who are the overseers or managers of the Canadian half of the international crossing known as the Blue Water Bridge, which is located in my riding of Sarnia—Lambton.

In 1937, after 20 years of study between the Canadian government and American interests, agreement was reached to construct a bridge over the St. Clair river at its narrowest juncture which is at the base of Lake Huron in the village of Point Edward.

For close to 60 years the original structure served as the crossing point between Canada and the United States, Ontario and Michigan, and the communities of Sarnia and Port Huron. For almost 60 years the first bridge served the interests of business, family and tourism well by providing a fast and efficient place to exit and enter Canada.

However, in 1964 parliament enacted legislation, known as the Blue Water Bridge Act, which created a board of directors of four people with certain powers, authority and obligations to operate the facility. The reason for that was twofold. First, the automobile in the post-war years resulted in a much greater volume of traffic: business, commercial, tourism, as well as personal use.

Second, the operations of the bridge needed to be self-sustaining and fulfil the expectations of the local, regional as well as national interests. With the passage in 1964 of the Blue Water Bridge Authority Act, control over operations was vested in the authority subject to certain provisions in terms of reporting to Transport Canada.

The legislation has served us well locally and nationally. The authority under the 1964 legislation provided the buildings for Canada customs, immigration and agriculture Canada free of charge. This was part of the 1964 act and continues and will continue to be the case.

Over the period from 1964 to 1992, the volume of traffic grew. This was a three lane bridge located some 50 minutes from Detroit. As both Canada and the U.S. became greater trading partners, as the method of moving goods shifted toward trucks and as the 400 series highways blossomed in Ontario and their interstate counterparts were built in the U.S., something quite startling happened.

Ontario Highway 402 was built in the mid-seventies connecting the Blue Water Bridge to Highway 401 some 100 kilometres away. On the American side, Interstate Highways 94 and 69 connected the bridge to Detroit and Chicago. As trade between our countries blossomed and traffic volume skyrocketed from a few trucks daily in 1938 to well over 7,000 18-wheelers daily today, the Blue Water Bridge is now the second busiest land commercial crossing on the Canada—U.S. border.

In 1992 the Blue Water Bridge Authority, responding to both local and national needs, conducted a feasibility study in concert with its American counterpart operators, the Michigan Department of Transport, and embarked on a bridge twinning project. On July 12, 1997, that second parallel Blue Water Bridge, the new one, was officially opened: a new structure abutting and running parallel to the 1938 structure. The bridge now offered six lanes to facilitate the crossing of goods and people. After the opening of the new span, a commitment of more than $75 million by the Blue Water Bridge Authority, the original span was closed to be re-decked and refurbished, a further commitment of about $25 million.

Since 1997 the volume of truck traffic has continued to grow somewhere in the neighbourhood of 12% per annum. The opening of a casino abutting the Canadian plaza of the bridge, literally almost under the bridge, and the favourable position of the Canadian dollar vis-à-vis U.S. residents, has resulted in an explosion of traffic. Some 20,000 vehicles are crossing daily and more than 1.6 million annually. Each and every month the revenues of the bridge authority have increased, despite the talk that there is a slowdown in the economy.

This means a number of things, reflected in Bill S-5. The bridge authority, through studies commissioned by it, has identified further capital projects to disentangle truck traffic from regular motor vehicle traffic. It must, for safety reasons and to facilitate the just in time delivery of goods, make major changes to its plaza at the base of the bridge. Without the passage of this legislation, Bill S-5, the Blue Water Bridge Authority will be unable to borrow the necessary funds to make these improvements as well as handle its long term debt load and multi-year capital plan.

The 1964 act has worked for 37 years, but in this era of increased trade and tourism this new legislation will allow the Blue Water Bridge Authority to continue to meet our national, regional and local interests. It is a sign and a symptom of success.

In closing I would like to thank the bridge authority and its chair, Mr. Doug Keddy, and the mayor of the village of Point Edward, Dick Kirkland, who have in recent years worked so diligently to ensure the success of this facility. As well, in anticipation I would like to thank the members of the House for their support in the adoption of this bill.

Blue Water Bridge Authority ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to rise today to address at second reading Bill S-5, which seeks to amend the Blue Water Bridge Authority Act.

Although most Canadians have probably not even heard of the Blue Water bridges, the parallel spans connecting Port Huron, Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario, we have all felt the effects of their presence. As the second busiest commercial vehicle corridor between Canada and the United States, the Blue Water bridges are an integral part of the Canadian economy, providing us with access not only to the U.S. market but to Mexico as well.

The modernization of this act would give the Blue Water Bridge Authority the means and capability of conducting its business affairs in a manner similar to that of any other private corporation in Canada. As a result of these changes, the authority will be able to borrow money to invest in infrastructure improvements on an as needed basis up to a limit of $125 million. The act will also ensure that the borrowing activities are overseen by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Transportation.

While I have some reservations about placing control for approval of borrowing in the hands of only two members of the House, I am hopeful that this arrangement may actually encourage some dialogue between the ministers on infrastructure investment for the rest of Canada's transportation system.

I am pleased to see the Minister of Transport in the House today. Earlier this week Canadians heard the minister defend his inaction on highways by once again reiterating that he could not possibly spend money on roads since they are a provincial responsibility.

If that is the case, then the question is this: why is the federal government collecting taxes that clearly belong to the party responsible for the roads, namely the provinces? It seems simple. If the government will not take responsibility for the roads then it should stop taking the money.

Fortunately we also had the Minister of Finance around to try to defend the paltry $600 million that the government intends to distribute to the provinces for road improvements over the next four years. He reminded us of all the wonderful things that the remaining $4 billion, yes, $4 billion, of fuel tax buys us.

Given the state of our highways it is unconscionable that the finance minister would defend spending 95% of fuel tax revenues on projects other than roads. As the Blue Water Bridge Authority has proven over the past 37 years, reinvesting revenues from operations means that we can afford to maintain infrastructure to impeccable standards.

Imagine for a moment that an American tourist is heading for a vacation in Canada. The American side of the journey is on interstate highways that receive funding to the tune of 95% of all fuel taxes collected by the state. The American tourist gets to the Blue Water Bridge, maintained fully by the revenue it generates, and enjoys a very pleasant crossing.

Then the American tourist arrives in Canada and continues the trip on highways that receive funding of less than 5% of total fuel tax revenues. The pathetic condition of our highways has the American checking his map furiously to make sure that he did not somehow make a wrong turn and is actually heading to Mexico.

I mention Mexico again because it brings up yet another compelling reason for renewed investment in our highway infrastructure, and that is trade corridors. The government has gone to great lengths to ensure that we have free trade with Mexico, yet it has spent no time considering how we will get there.

Access to and from the growing Mexican economy involves more than ensuring that we have enough bridges to the United States. Importers and exporters need to have confidence that the Canadian government is committed to ensuring that our transportation infrastructure will exist long enough for trading relations to fully develop.

We need to invest in developing and maintaining trade corridors to the south and national highways to the east and west to sustain access to the infrastructure such as the Blue Water bridges.

In conclusion, I am pleased to confirm that the Canadian Alliance supports the speedy passage today of all stages of amendments to the Blue Water Bridge Authority Act, Bill S-5, with the hope and the proviso that it may encourage further improvements to our national transportation network.

Blue Water Bridge Authority ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a word or two on Bill S-5 simply to get on the record, because it is not a very controversial piece of legislation. It is quite mundane, as a matter of fact, and I want to say on behalf of our party that we support the bill.

The bill will simply update the borrowing rules that apply to the Blue Water Bridge Authority. The current and complex rules for borrowing money are replaced by a requirement that the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Transport approve the authority's borrowing. A cap of $125 million is placed on all borrowing by the authority and the government will not be responsible for repayment of the authority's debt, so there no reason why anyone would not support the bill.

The bridges are operated by the Blue Water Bridge Authority, which includes Canadian and U.S. representatives. The authority operates at arm's length from government and receives no appropriations. It is not an agent of the crown and the government assumes no responsibility for debt incurred by the authority. As I said a moment ago, there is no reason not to support and approve the appropriations outlined in the bill.

The Canadian law governing the authority's ability to borrow money sets out a complex and antiquated set of rules and restrictions such as the maximum rate of interest to be paid, the maximum length of time to maturity for bonds issued in the authority's name, and the maximum rate to be paid on bonds redeemed early by the authority.

The borrowing authority sought under the bill is about $125 million. It is more than double the current outstanding debt of $60 million. The government says that is adequate to handle planned multi-year capital spending of $55 million. That is all we have to say on the bill. We support it.

Blue Water Bridge Authority ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

The Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Blue Water Bridge Authority ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Blue Water Bridge Authority ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

The Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Blue Water Bridge Authority ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, considered in committee, reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-2, an act respecting marine liability, and to validate certain by-laws and regulations, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

The Speaker

There are two motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill S-2, an act respecting marine liability, and to validate certain by-laws and regulations.

Motions Nos. 1 and 2 will be grouped for debate and voted on as follows. An affirmative vote on Motion No. 1 obviates the necessity of the question being put on Motion No. 2. On the other hand, a negative vote on Motion No. 1 necessitates the question being put on Motion No. 2.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill S-2, in Clause 39, be amended by replacing lines 35 to 38 on page 14 with the following:

“39. The Governor in Council shall make regulations by January 1, 2003, requiring insurance or evidence of financial security be maintained to cover liability under this Part.”

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

moved:

Motion No. 2

That Bill S-2, in Clause 39, be amended by replacing lines 35 to 38 on page 14 with the following:

“39. (1) The Governor in Council may make regulations requiring insurance or other financial security to be maintained to cover liability to passengers under this Part.

(2) Until regulations are made under subsection (1), vessel operators who do not have insurance or other financial security to cover liability to passengers must clearly and visibly post this fact in the appropriate location so that passengers, or potential passengers, are made aware of such absence of insurance.”

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak in debate to Bill S-2 and specifically to both motions put forward to amend clause 39.

It would perhaps be helpful if I run through the chronological order of how this amendment came about. We submitted the amendment to clause 39 in Bill S-2, the Marine Liability Act, to the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations during clause by clause consideration of the bill.

The amendment relates to the establishment of a date by which the government would establish regulations for compulsory insurance for commercial passenger vessels. These are vessels that are making a business of carrying people. It would bring them in line with all other modes of transportation. Commercial shipping is the only area which does not have compulsory insurance requirements.

The bill establishes the shipowner's liability for passengers but does not require them to prove that they have the financial means to pay any potential injured passengers.

The committee heard contradictory testimony from departmental officials. On one hand they stated that it could not be done without a detailed examination of the impact on the insurance industry. On the other hand marine insurance professionals stated that compulsory insurance was already part of their business and the industry could respond immediately to comply with the requirement.

During clause by clause analysis there was considerable debate on the amendment to clause 39. All four opposition parties were united in their support for the amendment that I had drafted and introduced. The amendment required the government to make insurance compulsory by January 1, 2002, a date chosen to allow the government the time it stated was required to implement an adequate administration scheme.

Liberal members of the committee agreed that the bill without compulsory insurance would not accomplish the objective of protecting passengers travelling by ship. Assurances were given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport that the government would act on a commitment. It shall make regulations as soon as it is able. That is really what the amendment is all about, because it says it shall in the future perhaps. However the government was not prepared to amend the bill at that time. I made an offer to extend the implementation date by a full year and was summarily dismissed.

It became clear in committee that despite acknowledging that the bill was deficient with respect to the compulsory insurance provisions, Liberal members were supporting the bill as drafted on a purely partisan basis. They were concerned that any amendment would require the bill to return to the Senate and thus delay royal assent. It was pointed out that the bill passed through the Senate in a single day. We all know that Bill S-2 originated in the Senate. Liberal members agreed that any delay would not be significant.

Approval of deficient legislation on partisan grounds or on the basis that it would require the bill to follow its prescribed course to the Senate constitutes special circumstances. That is why the amendment we are discussing today was allowed to stand at report stage as well as in committee. That is why I have amended our motion to reflect the compromise offered by the four opposition parties in committee. It now reads:

The Governor in Council shall make regulations by January 1, 2003, requiring insurance or evidence of financial security be maintained to cover liability under this Part.

The amendment is in addition to those put forward by my hon. colleagues in the New Democratic Party. Although they support the motion I put forward in committee, and I believe they will support it in the House, once it is defeated we need to have a fallback position. We need to ensure that passengers travelling on commercial vessels have some assurance they are protected, and if they are not protected that they are made aware of that.

I support the intent of Motion No. 2. I believe very strongly there is no legitimate reason, and there were no compelling reasons presented in committee, why commercial shipping vessels are not required to have compulsory insurance to protect passengers who are travelling by boat.

Failing that and if Motion No. 1 is defeated, the Canadian Alliance would support Motion No. 2 because it would provide some protection. If there is a requirement that a visible sign or some other form of communication has to be posted by shipowners, a warning sign, passengers would know the particular vessel does not have an adequate insurance policy or the financial means in the event the boat were to sink or some other mishap befalls passengers. They would not have reasonable assurance that their injuries or the injuries of their loved ones would be covered.

I am speaking in favour of my motion which would require compulsory insurance by January 1, 2003, so that all passengers travelling in Canada on water vessels would have the assurance and be well aware that all shipping companies in the business of transporting people have adequate insurance to protect them.

It would be similar to what airlines, bus companies and other modes of transportation have. They are required to have third party liability insurance to make sure passengers are adequately covered. Passengers boarding those forms of transportation have that assurance, yet we do not see the same requirement of shipowners. I speak in favour of Motion No. 1 for those reasons.

If Motion No. 1 is defeated, our party would support Motion No. 2 as a fallback position so that passengers understand when they board a particular vessel which does not have adequate insurance coverage they are accepting some personal risk with their decision.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Algoma—Manitoulin Ontario

Liberal

Brent St. Denis LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address the amendment of thee hon. member for Prince George—Peace River. My comments could be taken as applying to the amendment of the hon. member for Windsor—St. Clair.

These motions seek to amend clause 39 of Bill S-2 by putting an obligation on the governor in council to make regulations requiring shipowners to provide evidence of insurance or other financial security covering their liability to passengers under part 4 of the bill.

During the hearings held by the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations concerns were raised regarding the absence of compulsory insurance provisions in the bill. Reference was made to systems of compulsory insurance in respect of passengers in other modes of transport and to those currently in place in the United States.

I would like to stress that the introduction of a passenger liability regime in Canadian law is the first and essential step for the introduction of compulsory insurance for passenger ships. Bill S-2 makes a quantum leap toward this objective as it establishes for the first time in Canadian law the liability of the shipowner for loss of life or personal injury to passengers. The bill provides specific levels of compensation to which each passenger would be entitled in the event of an accident.

Unlike other modes of transportation there continues to be no international agreement mandating insurance coverage for passenger ships. The International Maritime Organization is currently working on a compulsory insurance regime for passengers and Bill S-2 recognizes this in clause 39.

Clause 39 provides for governor in council authority to adopt regulations on compulsory insurance and thus enables Canada to adhere to a uniform regime supported by international insurance markets.

However Canada can act on clause 39 as soon as the bill is passed and unilaterally introduce a regime of compulsory insurance for all ships operating in Canadian waters.

There are some provisions in the United States on compulsory insurance, but its system does not provide the benefits that Bill S-2 is trying to achieve. The U.S. compulsory insurance scheme is not comprehensive as it only deals with ships that have overnight accommodation for 50 or more passengers. In addition, the amount of compensation provided depends on the capacity of the ship which generates different treatments of passengers.

For example, in respect of ships with overnight accommodation capacity of between 50 and 500, the U.S. regime requires insurance of $20,000 U.S. per passenger accommodation. This amount decreases with higher capacity ships so that a ship with a capacity of 2,000 the required insurance is only $12,500 U.S. per passenger accommodation.

In addition to these variations in the treatment of passengers, all types of day trip ferries, sightseeing ships, tour boats, et cetera, are not covered by the compulsory insurance scheme of the U.S.

The Canadian regime provides compensation of $350,000 per passenger. Large shipowners, particularly in the coastal ferry and cruise ship markets, are generally well insured with established insurers and have full coverage against liability as set out in the bill. Hence these shipowners should have no difficulty to obtain and maintain adequate insurance.

Similarly the vast majority of small shipowners and operators should not encounter any problems in the Canadian insurance market to secure insurance against the obligations under Bill S-2.

I am also aware that as the insurers would not be compelled to insure every ship, it is possible that some operators, particularly in the whale watching or white water rafting market, may find their premiums substantially increased. Under the new liability regime they may be considered uninsurable and forced out of business. Others may lose some competitive advantage against U.S. operators who are not required to have insurance.

As in the case of compulsory insurance and in the current insurance regime for oil pollution, the establishment of compulsory insurance for passenger ships may require the establishment of some safety net for claims arising from uninsured ships or from the failure of the insurers to meet their obligations. Thus a necessary part of any compulsory insurance regime would be the responsibility of the government to approve insurers as is currently done under the oil pollution regime.

I believe that shipowners would voluntarily act responsibly. The government would act as soon as possible following the passage of the bill on the development of appropriate regulations to give effect to clause 39. In fact government testimony in committee repeated that commitment.

This would ensure that all shipowners obtain and provide evidence of adequate insurance against their liability to passengers under part 4. The government's serious commitment to this objective was already demonstrated in our efforts in the field of oil pollution.

In part 6 of the bill there is a regime of liability for oil pollution damage caused by oil tankers. The regime includes provisions on compulsory insurance that shipowners must have before they are permitted to navigate in Canadian waters. The oil pollution regime is based on international conventions which Canada adopted in 1999. As a result, Canadian interests such as our environment are protected by a well established regime that has the full co-operation of international insurance markets.

This co-operation was essential since our domestic insurance markets do not have the capacity to provide coverage against the levels of liability for oil pollution established in the international convention. This example of our dedication to protect Canadians in the marine transportation field speaks for itself. While there is no equivalent international agreement on compulsory insurance for passenger ships, this would not prevent Canada from introducing such a regime at the national level.

In this instance, the emphasis would be primarily on smaller vessels which to a large degree can be insured in the domestic insurance market as was reported by some of the industry witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations. We would take their advice and that of others potentially affected by the compulsory insurance system to make sure that we have examined every aspect of it and that we have put together a viable and workable regime.

Our goal is to ensure, first, that we have taken into account all interests involved and, second, that we have at the end a compulsory insurance system which is effective in its impact and efficient in its application.

As I have mentioned, the bill takes a giant step forward in addressing passenger ship liability and provides for an eventual solution to the concern raised by the opposition member. However, acting on clause 39 at this stage would be premature. The government will therefore not support either of the two proposed amendments.

The amendments could be detrimental to small passenger ship operators or unfair to the insurance industry. Measures will be taken as soon as the bill is passed to address this very important aspect of it. Given all that has been said, I reiterate that we will not be supporting the motion.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Churchill is on the committee reviewing the bill. When I became aware of the legislation it drew to mind an incident that took place in Lake Huron about a year ago. As a parent it is one of those scary nightmares we all have.

Students from one of the local high schools were out on a ferry on Lake Huron. There was a sudden storm, the ferry sank and two lives were lost. Two of the students drowned. It subsequently was learned that the ferry had no insurance. As a result the parents must not only cope with the tragic loss of their child. They must also deal with the financial consequences such as funeral expenses, et cetera, with no ability to look to the ferry operator for compensation.

The NDP is quite prepared to support the first motion before the House today because we believe insurance is the answer. I know from my experience in the civil litigation field that the second motion, my motion, is a far distant second preference. Putting up notices would not be nearly as effective as compulsory insurance in dealing with the issue.

The advantage of compulsory insurance is that it is not only available for parties who have suffered injury, death or other losses. It also acts as a check on the practices of the operators of the industry or service. If their practices are not conducted in a proper and safe fashion the insurance industry acts as an enforcement mechanism. It is therefore far preferable to have insurance than to rely simply on putting up notices.

If the government is absolute in its position that it will not make insurance compulsory then notices may still have some effect. If notices had been posted that the Lake Huron ferry had no insurance then the school that organized the day trip, being concerned for the safety of its charges, may not have used it.

There is not much more I can say. The comments of my Alliance colleague summarize the issue. I simply add these points and ask the government to rethink its position and move to compulsory insurance. If not, it should consider the fallback position of making it compulsory to post notices.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is difficult to be against a bill making shipowners liable.

The amendments to the act strike me as logical. Making shipowners liable and giving passengers and owners of luggage an opportunity to recover their belongings and sue a shipowner after an incident is, in my opinion, extremely worthwhile.

However, it is not a question of making shipowners liable but of being able to give them the tools to assume that liability.

In clause 39, when it says that the government may require insurance, the way we see this is that by giving them responsibilities, the government must require shipowners to be responsible financially by having liability insurance.

I remember, in the days before car insurance was required in Quebec, if we draw a comparison, people were sued following an accident because they were responsible for the accident, but not financially responsible. I can remember defending families, for example, who had lost everything as the result of an accident, because the person who was responsible was unable to assume his responsibilities.

The Automobile Insurance Act was passed, forcing owners of cars, trucks and any other road vehicles to carry the necessary insurance.

In this regard, when the government says it will see that shipowners get insurance once the bill is passed, that is too late. We have to fix this situation now, while we have the opportunity to do so, and we strongly support the motion that vessel operators be required to get liability insurance immediately.

Some Department of Transport officials have said that the industry was not ready right now to take on such a risk. However members of the insurance industry assure us of the contrary. They say they are perfectly prepared to take such risks.

As for liability with respect to pollution, this is a topic of particular interest to me. It is true that we must do everything possible to force shipowners to respect the waters they navigate on, among others the St. Lawrence. There are regular spills, perhaps not major ones, but there is a certain laxness as far as the environment is concerned.

I applaud this bill, which will require shipowners to be more responsible for the waters of the St. Lawrence, as well as to enable those who have sustained damages, whether fishers, farmers, marine algae producers or anyone sustaining damages as the result of an oil spill for instance, to sue shipowners in order to be compensated for the losses incurred. Plant workers are also entitled to do the same.

I would caution the government against a temptation that seems to have existed for a number of years. The St. Lawrence pilots and the specialized pilots, all associations of pilots with the responsibility of taking control of a ship and guiding it through the St. Lawrence to the Lakehead, tell us that attempts are being made, or at the very least pressures, to exclude them from this work some day.

I must say that we owe the condition in which the St. Lawrence is today, claims of its pollution notwithstanding, to the quality of the St. Lawrence pilots. Without the skill and calibre of these pilots, even their interest, and because of the fact that St. Lawrence River pilots know the river like the back of their hand—they know it so well they avoid the reefs, as is true as well in the Great Lakes—there would be major incidents.

I warn the government to avoid the temptation to take away pilots' responsibility for guiding ships to the Great Lakes. The pilots are afraid for their status as St. Lawrence pilots, and I hope this fear is unjustified. For 30 years, they have felt there has been a temptation to take this responsibility away from them.

I am saying that, on the contrary, they must be assured that responsibility for safe navigation on the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes is theirs. Given their calibre and skill, I think they require assurance that they will continue to do this work.

In short, we agree with most of the conclusions of this report and everything relating to the protection of the environment and the individual. Once again, I ask the government to act on its intention and ensure there is an obligation for shipowners to carry insurance in keeping with their responsibilities.

I will add one other small point, which I do not find here, and that is that it seems to me there should be a requirement to inspect vessels moving from the sea into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This would avoid damage caused by aging vessels, which could pollute the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes, in the event of an incident.

Canadian Institutes Of Health ResearchStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, one year ago the CIHR, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, officially opened for business. The result has been a banner year for health research.

Under the guidance of renowned geneticist Alan Bernstein, the 13 virtual institutes were named last July. These bring together spectra of research including basic biomedical, clinical science, health systems and services, and population health.

Scientists who work in hospitals, universities and research centres from coast to coast to coast are now linked through this network of institutes. In December directors were appointed to guide the institutes. This year 218 volunteers were selected from across Canada to serve on its advisory boards, creating a two way flow of information between researchers and communities.

Results of the CIHR's first funding competition were announced in April, ensuring that our best and brightest scientists are performing the best health research in Canada. The virtual dream has become a reality.

I am proud to be a member of a government that had the foresight to create an organization like CIHR and which committed in the Speech from the Throne to providing it with major increases in funding. By investing in research today all Canadians will benefit tomorrow.

Private Members' BusinessStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Canadian Alliance Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, backbench government and opposition MPs have few legislative tools at our disposal to raise issues of private or local concern here on the national stage.

One legislative mechanism we do have is the ability to draft private members' bills and motions to be drawn by a lottery and brought to the House.

By pure luck, my first ever private member's bill, to take the GST off the repairs of leaky condos in British Columbia, was drawn.

Unfortunately my one legislative avenue to have this issue of dominant importance in my constituency brought to the House for a vote will not happen. Like dozens of other private members' bills and motions, it will see the light of day in this House for 60 short minutes and die on the order paper.

All private members' bills and motions should be deemed automatically votable unless and only if the bill's sponsor deems it otherwise. There are no credible arguments for this to not be the case.

Each and every one of our constituents, the 30 million Canadians who we collectively represent, deserves an open and democratic system that respects their concerns first and treats those concerns with respect. Anything short of this is a defamation of this place and of the nature of true democracy that all Canadians deserve.