Madam Speaker, first, I want to say that the Bloc supports Bill S-2 as modified, tampered with and fixed up by the government to finally improve marine liability, while at the same time ensuring that the needs and wishes of taxpayers, waterway users and those who are major or occasional users of maritime transport are not met.
What I am saying is important and it is important that those listening understand how, because of the government's arrogance and pressure from political lobbies, a good bill can be turned into a mere improvement on the existing system, which I feel was rotten to the core to begin with. For decades, people have been asking that the legislation be changed to make sea carriers responsible, and that is what the people wanted.
Of course, part 2 of the bill in its premisses, deals with the “Apportionment of Liability”, which has to do with personal injuries and fatalities. What the bill states in clauses 4 to 14 is that this allows the dependants of a person injured or killed in a marine accident to claim damages. This is a situation that exists in Quebec at least. The legislation was changed and the civil code was changed accordingly. Laws are made in such a way that people responsible for damage must compensate for it.
Part 2 of the bill says that in the apportionment of liability, once it has been established that the person causing the damage is liable, there is the principle—which is still a principle of common law in the other provinces, but a principle of civil law in Quebec—that if several persons or ships were liable, the liability of each one would be proportionate to the degree of fault. But if the degree of fault could not be established their liability would be equal.
These are principles of law which are well understood now. In law, the standard is always the reasonable person standard, that is, how a reasonable person would manage as a prudent administrator and ensure that equity and common sense prevail in any situation.
Obviously, if someone causes damages, logically that person is liable and if two ships or pieces of equipment are damaged, their liability, when it can be established, is proportionate to the degree to which they are respectively at fault. When it is not possible to establish who is at fault they are jointly and severally liable for the damages they caused.
Under part 4, liability is defined as “liability for carriage of passengers by water”. Therefore, a whole part of the bill deals with the public. It would be normal for someone travelling by ship, if that person were to suffer personal injuries—which would be rather unpleasant for that person—but also loss of luggage—which is a rather regular occurrence—to be compensated for the damages suffered.
Part 4 of the bill sets as a principle that persons using carriage by water will be compensated for personal damages and for lost luggage.
Unfortunately under clause 39 of this fine bill, the governor in council may require those responsible to get insurance. This is where the rub is; this is where we see the arrogance of the government yielding to the pressures of political lobbies, big shipping companies, and those who would have to get insurance to cover liability for damages caused.
Yesterday in the House we saw the party in power defeat amendments whereby parties were asking that those involved in the carriage by water of passengers be required to carry insurance to cover liability for damages caused.
It is only too easy these days to set up a numbered company and register a ship under it, thus avoiding getting insurance. When one is responsible for damages one is sued. Those who could have collected damages will get nothing because the company is insolvent or bankrupt.
We tried to make this point in committee. One must realize that the shipowner lobby is very powerful and is a main contributor to the campaign funds of several members of parliament. This big lobby was successful in conveying the message that the time had not yet come to impose an obligation to carry liability insurance on all those whose business it is is to carry passengers.
This is difficult to understand all the more so when officials from the Department of Transport appeared before the committee and told us that the insurance industry would not be able to support—if the industry ever had to do it—the whole new economic burden, all the new demands there could be and all the obligations that passenger carriers could have. Apparently it was too big a job. They are not able to integrate into their insurance system the supplementary demands that that legislative amendment would entail.
What did the committee do as a good manager of public interests? We asked that some insurance industry representatives appear before the committee. All the industry representatives had a good laugh at the officials' answer that the insurance industry was unable to accommodate the supplementary volume of business that arises as a result of the obligation for those who carry passengers and their luggage to get insurance and provide compensation for damages. For the insurance industry this can be done very easily. That can be integrated very quickly. The industry already insures much of shipowners' fleet that carries passengers and there would be no problem.
This explains why amendments have been moved by the Canadian Alliance and the New Democratic Party. Believe it or not, all these amendments have been rejected by the government party. One of these amendments went as far as to say, in essence “Listen, if we think the industry, which says today it can integrate this, does not want to do it, let us delay implementation until 2003 so that starting on January 1, 2003 insurance will be compulsory”. Well, this has also been rejected by the government party.
Some things are hard to understand. This is a very good example of a bill that purports to be perfectly logical so that all the users, all our good citizens who pay taxes and travel by ship for leisure or for work, can be insured, just like they are when they travel by plane, bus, coach, city bus, metro, train, and so on.
There was no insurance for carriage of passengers by water. The government has introduced a bill that could have been excellent. Admittedly, it is an improvement. Previously marine carriers were not liable. The government decided to put them on an equal footing with other passenger transport industries and said “From the date this bill takes effect marine carriers will be liable for injuries to individuals, users and passengers and for luggage lost”.
However, I want to warn all Canadians, and Quebecers in particular, that before they get on board a ship they should ensure that the carrier has insurance coverage, because in its wisdom the federal government has decided not to force marine carriers to take insurance. If they do business with a carrier that does not have any insurance, that started its operation as a numbered company and that goes bankrupt, then their families will get no compensation at all if they should happen to die in an accident. If they are injured or if their luggage is lost, they will get no compensation under this great piece of legislation.
Again, this started as an interesting bill, but lobbyists managed to put so much pressure on this arrogant government that it finally brought forward amendments that make it very difficult to get any compensation for losses suffered in an accident.
This is not the only change and the only interpretation made to please the lobbyists and to show how arrogant the government can be.
The sixth part of this bill deals with liability for pollution.
This bill is indeed an improvement. As I said before, the Bloc Quebecois will support it since, in our opinion, half a loaf is better than no loaf. The fact is that with regard to pollution this bill is based on the principle that all those who cause damages will be held responsible and will have to compensate those who incur such damages.
It must be understood that the government had the sense to include in the bill a list of those who could incur damages other than environmental damages.
I am thinking, for instance, of those who earn a living from fishing, from fish farming or from water plant growing, owners of fishing vessels and fish processing plant workers in Canada who suffer a loss of current or future income or a loss of supply as the result of a discharge of oil from a ship. They may now be compensated by a special fund.
Members understand that the government had to act because of pressures coming from all those who wanted something done in terms of liability and compensation for pollution. There were pressures from the industry, from those who rely on sea products to earn a living, from all those people who could or did incur damages. If they incurred damages in the past, they are asking, as would be the case in any industry, that the party responsible be required to provide compensation.
For compensation, a fund is being established and managed by the Government of Canada. For each metric ton of oil carried by ship, a certain amount is paid into this compensation fund, which is managed by the Government of Canada. Believe it or not, these amounts are the same as those that were negotiated in the 1990 international agreements.
Once again, following pressure by shipowners, the influential members of our society, primarily politically influential by means of the campaign funds of our colleagues opposite, they managed to say to them “Now that you are requiring us to compensate people who were not compensated before and are clarifying the law, what we need to know now is the extent of the damages”. The shipowners did not need to be made too liable. They did not want costs to rise.
The money paid into this compensation fund is the same as in 1990 and is indexed. The indexing is expected but does not include the increase in the cost of energy. Finally, most of the text on liability and compensation in the case of pollution covers primarily oil pollution, according to what is in the bill. Imagine, an industry in the business of carrying oil and oil carriers pay into the compensation fund. The money is contributed according to a formula dating from 1990.
These are the same amounts as were contributed in 1990. They are indexed according to the cost of living but not the cost of energy. These people live from energy, and we know very well that the increase in the cost of living over the past three years was due primarily to the increase in the cost of energy.
They managed to convince the government that it would be a good idea to index the 1990 amounts but to ignore the main factor in the increase in the cost of living, that is energy costs. Once energy costs are excluded there is almost no increase. The cost of living has practically not gone up since 1990, if energy costs are not taken into account.
It is once again a perfect example of a very interesting bill aimed at compensating people who depend on sea products for their livelihood, who could sustain damages as the result of an oil spill caused by oil carriers. Compensation will now be provided through a special fund to which corporations and shipowners contribute. The amount they contribute, however, is the same amount they were paying into a similar fund in 1990.
This fund had been adopted in many parts of the hemisphere to provide compensation to people sustaining damages. Shipowners have been paying the same amount since 1990. The amounts are the same, but the liabilities have increased.
Our main question, the one I have asked the government representatives is this: Will there be enough money to compensate everyone? The answer was “Yes, there is no problem. We are talking about $100 million, which is enough”. In an ecological disaster $100 million is nothing, particularly if all the industries and sea products in one part of the country are affected. This amount is nothing. It is a drop of fresh water in an ocean of salted water. This is what this may represent.
Once again we are getting lip service from the government, a nice bill that is an improvement. The industry is being made liable for damages it might cause but the industry does not want to suffer too much economically; we have to be careful, it does not make enough money as it is. Canadian shipowners are allowed to do business in foreign countries. For example, in Barbados, they can manage businesses and through agreements signed by the Government of Canada they pay only 1% in taxes on all the income they may earn.
This is allowed; it is in agreements. The Bloc Quebecois has asked the government in this House to deal with this now ironic situation of businesses moving to the islands. This example is a concrete one. This is an agreement the Government of Canada has signed with the Government of Barbados, allowing for capital transfers, allowing Canadian businesses to have ships registered in Barbados and to pay only 1% in taxes on their profits. This is the reality.
Moreover, in a bill to make them responsible for damages resulting from an accident, a failure or an environmental oil disaster, they are told “Not only are you responsible, but you are to compensate all those who make a living in the fishing industry. The only thing is that there is a limit on compensations that may be paid by businesses”. They contribute to a fund. They pay a given amount for each metric ton carried by sea. They use barrels. The amount has been the same since 1990. As I said earlier, there is a cost of living adjustment that does not include the energy costs when we all know that these companies rely on energy in fact.
What we have here is another example of a very interesting bill designed to protect the interests of all Quebecers and all Canadians, but with this arrogant government and its huge majority that always sides with the shipowners' lobby, I am sure members will agree with me that this will probably just be wishful thinking. I do not wish for an ecological disaster that will make it blatantly clear that the compensation fund is underfunded. That is not what I wish for.
Part 7 of the bill validates among other things the Pilotage Act and the 1992 Laurentian pilotage tariff regulations.
When Canadian or foreign ships enter the waters of the St. Lawrence Seaway system they are taken care of by expert pilots who are members of various organizations and associations. In this case, it is the Laurentian Pilotage Authority. We also have the St. Lawrence Pilotage Authority and the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority. There are about 400 to 500 pilots, men and women, who take care of the ships plying the St. Lawrence Seaway, to avoid any natural disaster.
For several years now lobbyists for shipowners have been trying to decimate these pilotage authorities by systematically urging the government to review the legislation and allow their own pilots to take over from these specialists in the St. Lawrence Seaway system.
With this bill, the government had a wonderful opportunity to finally put an end to all the hesitation and discussions on the future of the St. Lawrence Seaway pilots, who are members of various associations. It was a wonderful opportunity for the government to resolve this endless debate, which has led these people, these men and women, to live in a constant state of insecurity.
They call us and they call members of the opposition to say that once again the shipowners and the government are exchanging letters and documents because of the additional costs.
If the government can refuse to make a cost of living adjustment to the sums invested since 1990 in the compensation fund, it can easily decide to abolish all the associations and the very principle of having St. Lawrence Seaway pilots, people who protect us from serious disasters such as a fuel spill in the St. Lawrence, that estuary which flows into the Great Lakes. One must be careful about this, because some people have been wrong about which way the water in our rivers and lakes flows.
Nevertheless, it was a wonderful opportunity for the government to put an end, once and for all, to all the shilly-shallying about the usefulness of pilots, those experts on the St. Lawrence Seaway. I repeat that these pilots take charge of ships as soon as they enter the St. Lawrence Seaway. They take charge of them and take them to the Great Lakes, to their destination. This is still our best safety measure.
We are not the only country in the world that uses expert pilots. They do it in the United States on the Mississippi. They also do it in Europe. In fact, in all countries where there are large estuaries, tributaries or rivers with very specific characteristics, there is a system of expert pilots.
We are being told today that there are all kinds of technological inventions that can be used to pilot these ships without human involvement. However, the reality is very different. No machine can replace humans. If that had been possible, machines would have replaced humans long ago in the House. That is not the case. Machines have still not invaded this place and I do not foresee the day where they will, the way things are going now.
This is the hard reality facing a government that, once more, is seeking to improve legislation but has failed to give what they want to stakeholders who depend on shipping for their livelihood, for leisure or spare time activities. This is what is so difficult.
We realize how arrogant the government is when, because of its strong majority, it will not even listen to interesting advice given by the opposition, to interesting questions it asked in committee. For example, when we asked questions of representatives of the insurance industry, they said “There is no problem”. Tomorrow, if we make the system mandatory, that is not a problem. It does not raise the premiums and the cost will be less than a person pays for home insurance.
They gave us an example of an 85 passenger ship for which the premium would be $1,600. That is the cost of the insurance. That is the reality. That is what the insurance industry spokespersons told us.
Tomorrow morning, if the decision is made to make insurance mandatory for all those who carry passengers, this will not increase premiums across Canada. The industry is very much capable of handling it. It has already done some market analyses and the actuarial studies are all ready as well. It already has part of this market, since it provides coverage to part of the industry. That is not a problem.
Once again the government decided, in response to pressures from various lobby groups, to take a step backward. In dealing with a bill, especially one in the shipping sector and entitled an act respecting marine liability and to validate certain bylaws and regulations, the orientation must be to make people liable for certain things. In addition to imposing responsibility upon them, they must be required to adhere to certain standards.
I will close my remarks with the comment that this would have been a very good opportunity to settle the future of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, which has been operating the 13 locks along the St. Lawrence Seaway for some years.
It has therefore been operated by an independent authority, in connection with which there has been a transfer agreement indicating that all five year plans must be reported to the government, through Transport Canada. From the security aspect, it is also required to administer the locks and marine traffic on the St. Lawrence Seaway. It is also required to ensure its safety.
On June 1, 2000, in St. Catharines, a 70 year old woman lost her life simply because she decided to cross a bridge that was being raised to give way to marine traffic. She did not have time to cross, panicked, fell into the mechanism and died. That was on June 1, 2000.
On July 28, 2000, without waiting for the coroner's report, because obviously such a violent death calls for a coroner's inquest, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation decided unilaterally, apparently for financial and safety reasons, to tell its employees working at its 13 locks in Canada that starting with the 2001 season, which is now under way, it would reduce staff at all locks. The number of employees would be reduced from three to two.
This was a directive from the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation to its employees. Some permanent employees and some temporary employees were affected. Termination notices were sent to them to say that their contract would not be renewed.
The coroner's report was released on October 17, 2000. Of course it criticized certain facilities at the St.Catharines lock but also made the comment that there should be four employees, not three, on every shift at that location.
People who work at a lock are mostly involved in tying down and control activities. Control is necessary because there are many tourists.
There are those like recreational boaters who use the locks. There are also all those who go for a walk and watch the boats. They should be monitored. To prevent accidents like the one that happened to this lady in her 70s, people should be kept at a fair distance from the facilities.
If there is a problem with a ship it has to be moored. There are cables and mooring bitts. This is done manually. The machine to do this automatically has not been invented yet. There has to be people alongside of the locks to moor ships, especially in case one would break down. Navigation locks are not used only by small recreational crafts. There are also huge oil tankers that share the seaway with these crafts. If one of them were to break down, experienced people are needed on shore to hold and move the others.
That is the reason why the coroner made this recommendation. Obviously the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation was not pleased. At first it said this was a bad report by the coroner, as if it were possible to have good and bad coroner reports. When there is an accident a report is written. The coroner examines the occurrence from the point of view of security and tries to find ways to prevent it from happening again.
One of the recommendations was to have four people instead of three at the locks in St. Catherines. I am raising this because it has an impact, because of the guideline issued by the management corporation. If affects the safety of all 13 locks along the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Since it deals with liability, compensation and definitely safety and since making people accountable forces them to act more safely, this bill would have been a good opportunity to deal once and for all with the need to have the required staff at the locks along the St. Lawrence Seaway in order to avoid a repeat of the situation experienced on June 1 of last year by this lady in her 70s.
We tabled a letter in committee but that letter was not received by government officials for all sorts of reasons. Nothing that comes from the opposition is ever good, apparently, but the government should realize that when we take initiatives in the interest of our constituents, of Quebecers and Canadians, it is always good. This is the logic that should guide this House, not political interests and lobbies.
We recommended that the Standing Committee on Transport hear officials from the management corporation, the officials from Transport Canada who were involved in the inquiry, and workers' representatives. They tried to make us backtrack by saying that this was a labour relations issue. I must say that none of the employees who were notified lost his or her job; they were all relocated elsewhere.
The issue is not workers' interests but the safety of the public, of the boaters and tourists who use the 13 locks along the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Bloc Quebecois cares about these people. Each member of each party in this House should care about these people, not about shipowners.
The problem with the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation is that it charges a fee to ships entering the locks. Of course costs are increasing and shipowners do not want to pay more. These shipowners are asking the management corporation they are part of that fees be reduced, that staff be cut back. Instead of listening to the coroner, who says that the staff should be increased from three to four at the St. Catharines locks, and it would be the same at the 13 locks along the St. Lawrence Seaway, the corporation says it will cut back because there are costs involved. The concern is not safety but fees.
Incidentally, fees have doubled for pleasure craft owners while they have been reduced by 40% for shipowners. This is the reality. The shipowners' lobby is taking control of political organizations. Finally, they know how this works; they know where the campaign funds are and how parliament works.
For us, the representatives of the community, it is hard to see situations such as these and to be prevented in committee to hear at least the seaway management corporation and to ask it: “How did you decide to cut back on staff? Why was the staff cut back when we have a coroner's report saying this is dangerous, this is not safe and the staff should be increased and not cut back?”
I repeat that this is not a problem of labour relations. The permanent employees have all been relocated. This is not the problem. The problem is discussing safety. This bill could have been a wonderful opportunity to do so.
This bill purports to be a bill on marine liability. I repeat, responsibility means that if one is responsible safety must be improved so that damage and accidents do not happen.
In the presentation I made on this particular issue there was a letter from a pilot dated November 11, 2000. This pilot entered the lock at St. Catharines; he had engine trouble and could no longer stop because he could not reverse. He had to warn the stevedores “I am without power. I am drifting toward you. You must stop me. Bring the equipment”. They managed to stop him, but if they had not the ship would have destroyed everything in its path. As he says in the letter he wrote to his union, “If there had been only two of them there, I would have destroyed everything in front of me”.
That is the reality of the situation. This happened in November and it will perhaps happen in the middle of July. I for one, as an MP, would have made the House aware that such situations could have been avoided if parliament had assumed its responsibilities and included in bills such as the one on marine liability provisions making the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation liable for lock safety. If that had been done, they would certainly have taken less draconian measures than they have.
This is a business decision to reduce costs for shipowners, for whom the lives of lock workers or those watching boats or pleasure craft do not matter anyway. What matters is the money they make and put into their pocket and on which they pay only 1% in taxes, because they are registered to Barbados; they are part of a company flying the flag of Barbados.
That is the reality of the situation in Canada. This is why many citizens, many Quebecers, no longer believe in the Canadian system.
We have lost the credibility we had probably earned over the last 100 years. Why? It is because for the past 15 years political lobbies have taken over this parliament.