Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill we have before us, Bill C-3.
The sole purpose of this bill is to transfer certain responsibilities from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, particularly responsibility for the Canadian Coast Guard, to the Department of Transport.
The bill does not propose any really major changes. As the government has said, there are no new costs involved in the transfer of responsibilities.
Hon. members need perhaps to be reminded that these responsibilities have been with Transport in the past. If I am not mistaken, these responsibilities, including that of the Canadian Coast Guard, were transferred to Fisheries and Oceans in the early 1990s. So this is a kind of backward step. It is a kind of return to the previous situation, after the realization that the transfer to Fisheries and Oceans was not really working.
In December 2003, the government transferred the responsibilities we are discussing today to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans by order in council. These responsibilities needed, of course, to be in the legislation, which is why the Canada Shipping Act, the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act and the Oceans Act will be amended.
This does not, unfortunately, really solve the problem of the Canadian Coast Guard. This body has numerous responsibilities. The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans studied the role of the Canadian Coast Guard on two occasions, and in March 2004 tabled a unanimous report containing 18 recommendations on the Coast Guard, its role and its importance.
The government ought perhaps to have taken its cue from that report and introduced a bill making the Canadian Coast Guard an independent agency. That was the gist of the main recommendation. As an agency, it could fulfill responsibilities serving both the Department of Transport and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, in fact even all departments concerned. This was a very important recommendation that should have compelled the government to make the Coast Guard an independent agency as soon as possible.
The other problem affecting the Coast Guard in particular is underfunding. I think everyone from industry people, to the Coast Guard itself, to parliamentarians agrees. The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, among others, found that the Canadian Coast Guard is completely underfunded. In the current state of its fleet and with its lack of adequate human resources, it could never meet expectations.
I would simply remind hon. members that the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans reported that the Canadian Coast Guard is rusting out and the fleet is clearly undercapitalized. That is the position of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
The average age of Canadian Coast Guard vessels is 20.2 years and the median age is 19 years; for the larger vessels the average age is 24.8 years with a median age of 22 years. Almost 80% of the fleet has reached or passed its half-life, and nearly 50% of the vessels have five years or less of useful life left. The picture is bleaker when considering large vessels, for which the respective numbers are 95% and 39%.
As reported by the Auditor General, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimated in 1999 the replacement cost of all of the large vessels was at $2.2 billion. That seems like a lot of money, but if it had been invested at the time, in the early 1990s, to replace the fleet, the figure would have been a lot less, and all the vessels and equipment of the Canadian Coast Guard could gradually have been replaced.
Since September 2001, the Canadian Coast Guard has faced a nearly catastrophic situation, with new mandates. Emergency investments have had to be made and funding is still completely inadequate.
We are talking about a cost of $2.2 billion, but simply to replace the large vessels over 30 years old, it would cost $750 million. Obviously the main challenge will be to replace the Coast Guards ships and other equipment. As Commander John Adams, Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, said, “—based on a renewal rate of only 4% for the asset base, the coast guardshould be investing between $140 and $150 million in capital funding into our infrastructure each year”. That is what should have been done in the past, of course. If there had been an annual investment of $140 to $150 million, or even $100 million, for 10 or 15 years, the problem would not exist today. We would now have a Canadian coast guard much better equipped to fulfil its mandates and meet the needs.
As the Coast Guard Commissioner said, “Our budget over the last ten years has been in the order of $30 million to $40 million”. This represents a shortfall of about $100 million per year for the Coast Guard, just for replacing certain equipment. Now we find ourselves in a situation that could be called practically impossible. The Canadian Coast Guard's fleet needs to be replaced or modernized, and large amounts of money must be invested to achieve the desired results, the results the public, the Coast Guard and the industry all want to see.
This is what has happened over the years. Since the infrastructure was not replaced, it is aging and deteriorating. Moreover, there has been another problem. The Coast Guard is clearly understaffed. Today, in my opinion, the Canadian Coast Guard is unable to respond to all calls for its services.
The bill before us transfers the responsibilities of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to the Department of Transport. However, in the end, no money is allocated. Who will assume these responsibilities? Who will meet the needs expressed? It is very difficult to tell. The bill is not at all clear on this. Do we want to create another structure within the Department of Transport to meet the needs that are transferred to that department, or will we use, among others, the Canadian Coast Guard? If we rely on the Coast Guard, it goes without saying that we will have to invest more in its equipment and also in its personnel.
The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans noticed something else during its review of the Canadian Coast Guard. I am referring to the difficulty that Coast Guard personnel is currently experiencing in fulfilling its mandate. We are talking about people who cannot take training courses, because there is not enough personnel to replace them. This means that they cannot take development courses. That includes the whole management framework, since managers themselves are not replaced because there are not enough of them. The result is that the Coast Guard personnel is asked to do too much. After a while, these people get tired. So, the Canadian Coast Guard is subjected to totally unwarranted pressure.
Let us not forget that the Coast Guard must fulfill all kinds of duties, including research and rescue operations. This is very important for recreational boaters and fishermen, among others, particularly in my region, but also on the west coast. Indeed, fishermen must travel further at sea to find the resources, thus putting their lives at greater risk.
This is another reason why the Canadian Coast Guard is subjected to greater pressure now than in the past. It is not necessarily equipped to meet the needs or to be able to properly carry out its mandate with respect to search and rescue. We have seen some pretty tragic cases recently. The same is true of emergency environmental response.
At present, with the growing maritime traffic—which is not likely to diminish, given the import and export activities of both Quebec and Canada—pollution is indeed one of the biggest problems, because of the ships either sailing or docking in our waters.
Naturally, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans reports that, currently, the source of the majority of discharges of substances such as oil at sea is unknown or, if known, impossible to be acted on to resolve the problem.
Also, the Canadian Coast Guard does have a role to play within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with respect to the protection of fisheries resources , in terms of search, among others. Here again, we can say that the Coast Guard is unable to meet the needs.
The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans therefore made 18 recommendations. As I indicated earlier, the main one is for a renewed Canadian Coast Guard to be established as anindependent civilian agency. That is the committee's wish, and I think that the government should have taken heed.
Another recommendation of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was that the Canadian Coast Guard be under Transport Canada but, before, that it become a stand-alone agency, that is, an independent civilian agency. We can see that some responsibilities are being transferred to Transport Canada, and we know that the Canadian Coast Guard used to come under that department. Perhaps all this could have taken place before the government introduced the bill before us.
Why transfer some responsibilities to Transport Canada? Because that is the lead department for maritime security. And, following the events of September 11, this role was of course expanded. Transport Canada is working with all security agencies, and the Canadian Coast Guard should also be involved.
The Department of Transport is also responsible for shipping traffic in general, and a major part of the Coast Guard responsibilities involve shipping traffic safety. Right now, we get many complaints from people who live on the shores of the St. Lawrence River about shipping traffic, and especially about bank erosion. Ships travelling at high speed in the channel generate powerful waves, which damage part of the banks of the St. Lawrence River.
One important role of the government would be to regulate the traffic in order to limit the speed of large ships. The Coast Guard would manage this traffic, which, for currently does not seem to be controlled. We do know that the speed of ships in the St. Lawrence River channel is regulated only by implicit agreement between ship owners and the pilots. Shipping generates erosion and other problems.
There is another crucial element in connection with traffic on the St. Lawrence River and towards the Great Lakes, and it has been examined by the fisheries and oceans standing committee. I am talking about the invasion of our waterways by exotic species that are harmful to our resources. This problem will only get bigger. The Department of Transport and the Coast Guard have a role to play to prevent this kind of problem.
The Department of Transport and the Coast Guard could play a very important role, that of inspecting and cleaning vessels entering our waters so that no more invasive species will be brought in.
Another recommendation was that the Canadian Coast Guard be given full operational funding. I have underscored right from the start that the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans found the Coast Guard to be seriously under funded. The March 2004 report recommended to the government that it be properly funded. We know that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is one of the least well funded of departments. I would say it has had the smallest budget increase since 1993, along with the biggest cuts. Even though some have said that it is precisely because the Coast Guard is connected to Fisheries and Oceans that it is underfunded, I am only partially in agreement with that. Whether the Canadian Coast Guard is transferred to the Department of Transport in whole or in part, whether it is made into an agency or not, if it gets no more funding that when it reported to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the situation will not be corrected. It will remain unchanged.
The Government of Canada must gradually invest in the Canadian Coast Guard. This must be done regularly, annually, so as to renew all infrastructures. Compared with other coast guards around the world, the Canadian Coast Guard is among the poorest and least well organized. Looking at the United States, we can see that their coast guard reports to the armed forces; it is very well equipped and can fulfil the mandates assigned to it.
One of the recommendations of the March 2004 report entitled “Safe, Secure, Sovereign: Reinventing the Canadian Coast Guard” reads:
That the Canadian Coast Guard be given the explicit authority to act on behalf of other agencies—
That is what I was just saying. If we create an independent agency, it should have, and I quote
“the explicit authority to act on behalf of other agencies, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, Transport Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canada Revenue Agency, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada in situations where there is reasonable cause to believe that Canadian laws are being broken.”
At present, I think there has been some weakening of these mandates through a number of agencies and departments. That means we are now going through a similar process to what happened in the United States. That country created an agency and gave it selected powers taken from other departments. I think that is what should be done here. We should create an agency whose role will be to coordinate and fulfil mandates. It is a role that could be given to the Canadian Coast Guard, if the government is willing to establish it as an independent agency.
We do not completely support this bill. We agree with certain things, but disagree with others. We feel this bill, as it stands, will not improve anything about the way the government fulfils its mandates or the way the Coast Guard can fulfil its mandate in the future.
In conclusion, the important thing is to make investing in the Canadian Coast Guard a priority. It must become a real agency and it must have the means to fulfil its mandate.