Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague across the floor for his excellent speech and for his ability to concisely put together a number of things that have come together under Bill C-15.
Both the amendment and the bill say a great deal to me in terms of how this new government is meant to function. This legislation encourages the government to resist certain pressures it receives from some of its more corporate-minded friends. It also speaks to me of the ability, in this minority government, to put through amendments at committee stage that strengthen the bill and give it teeth.
Clearly in having environmental legislation in this country that is voluntary or is meant to be at the lowest common denominator, we find that industry time and again falls to that lowest common denominator and falls into the voluntary status. Industry does not rise to the place that we Canadians would like to hold it to. This is an example of reality versus perception.
For many years the Liberals have said during election campaigns that they were the protectors of the environment, that they were the great defenders of our environmental status. Yet what we have seen, as recently as last week, is that pollution numbers in this country are going up consistently. To me, this speaks to inefficiencies. When I see pollution coming out of a stack, when I see it leaving the tailpipe of a car, that speaks to me of a machine or an operation that is not working as well as it could or ought to. I am speaking about noise pollution, chemical pollution and all the rest.
Bill C-15 speaks very specifically to the intentional and deliberate pollution of our ocean waters. Clearly for many members in the House this is not the most riveting debate, yet at the same time this is an indicator of how we need to be considering our environment and starting to increase the seriousness of the discussion and the seriousness of the consequences for those companies that deliberately pollute the environment simply out of convenience or cost savings.
The most recent example is the oil spill off the east coast, which has been talked about. The Minister of Natural Resources has called it a tragedy. He called it a tragedy only because of the fact that at $50 a barrel it was a shame to have lost all that oil into our ocean. He is missing the point entirely of what it means to have a spill in this modern day and age.
Here is what we noticed when the thousands of ocean birds started washing up on shore. When the oil was tested it was found not to have come from the rig that had broken down but from ships that had passed through the spill. Captains of those ships decided that the best way to operate their ships was to go through a known spill, dump their bilge oil rather than go into port and properly take care of it, and then get away scot-free. This is the way business has come to operate.
While there are many strong and environmentally sound players out there, we know that the shipping industry also operates on the law of the high seas, which is based upon “if you can't catch us then you can't fine us”, and if they cannot be fined, then no one knows it has been done.
While I rise in support of the bill, the minimum fine precedent that my hon. colleague spoke of is very important when we look at other considerations in the environment. What is it when a company spills intentionally into a community's drinking water? What is it when an oil pipeline is not constructed properly and eventually leaks or breaks, contaminating an entire area? What is it when a car manufacturing company builds a car that it knows could be more efficient and decides not to?
At what point will we decide to use the power of this place, the power of legislation at hand, to encourage companies, politely yet forcefully, to act in ways that are more responsible, respectable and efficient, whether that company is a smelting operation, a car manufacturer or any such operation within our country?
We have forgotten a basic principle, which is that to operate a company within this country is not a right but a privilege. It is a privilege that is given by society as a collective whole. Whether it is a shoe making company, a company that makes lollipops or a company that makes oil tankers, we as a society decide that the business is permitted to operate within our borders.
When we get into the international shipping reality, as my hon. colleague mentioned, and fine a company like Canada Steamship Lines whose former owner is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and may spend $20,000 or $30,000 on Christmas cards in any given year, it is not serious. That suddenly becomes a cost of doing business. We need to stop externalizing the cost of doing business in this country. If a company is allowed to run its costs up the smokestack into the air or out into the water or into the oceans and not pay for those costs of doing business, then we as consumers are not paying properly for the things we acquire and we as a governing body are not upholding our responsibility to Canadians.
There is a second part to this. It arose in committee and I am looking forward to the actual and accurate piece of legislation. What happens when these fines are levied? In the past, environmental fines have been written off against a company's taxes, again as a part of doing business. A calculation is done on whether it is worth it to the company to pollute because the cost can simply be written off whatever taxes it is meant to pay to whatever level of government. It simply becomes an order of the day, a cold and calculated measurement, which we as society end up paying for twice. We pay for it first through the pollution in the environment and second through taxes and revenues that do not accrue to roads and health care and all those things our tax money is meant to go toward.
As for the birds that we have been talking about, a lot of people visit the ocean very rarely so they see few of these waterfowl, which mean very little to them, but I have been considering them as an indicator species for the way we are treating our environment. They are visible. They are seen and known. People see them when they wash up. As has been mentioned many times in the House, it does not take much, just a small drop, on the body of an ocean-going bird to kill it, to ruin its ability to live and survive. These are simply the indicators, the things that we are able to see. The effects of pollution, whether it is in a child's asthma or increased cancer rates around a smelter, are much harder to detect and connect.
Finally, after many years of trying, it was in a minority government that it was pushed. A government was able to take recommendations and changes from the minority parties. That is what pushed this bill through. Hopefully it will pass in the Senate and get royal assent.
Let us look again at the shipping organizations. This is probably a clear message to them as well: simply lobbying their corporate friends in business and friends within the ruling government of the day, making sure that they are well taken care of, is no longer enough. These corporations actually have to make their case to the Conservatives, the Bloc and the NDP. They actually have to make their case, in this instance like many of the non-government organizations did. Clearly they made a better case for having something like a minimum fine, which, as has been said already, is a precedent in Canadian environmental law. We have finally said that if businesses do this and get caught, they will be paying a minimum fine of $500,000.
We do have some concerns about where this fine ends up. If this were to end up hitting the workers on board the ships, who did not make the decision, who were not involved or did not have the power to stop the bilge dumping, we would have a problem with that. We need to go to the top of the food chain and find out who has the money and who is making the decisions to operate their business in such a way.
The only other major concern we have with this is the inability to actually enforce this piece of legislation. I come from a coastal riding. We have put together legislation with teeth. We have put together a piece of legislation that is going to fine businesses and cause them to reconsider their options when they are not sure what to do with all their extra oil, but the second part of it is our actual ability to catch these guys.
If the Coast Guard in my community and my riding is representative of how we are funding our Coast Guard across this country, we have a long way to go in getting to the point where we are actually able to see this happening, catch the people aboard the ships and make sure that the fines stick. This government has been consistent year in and year out in its lack of funding and support for our Canadian Coast Guard.
We have one of the largest coasts in the entire world. With the effects of global warming, we are soon going to be looking at the possible opening of the Northwest Passage. We have absolutely no ability to enforce our sovereignty in that area. We have seen this just recently with a number of European nations starting to make some claims about some of our northern islands. As preposterous as this sounds to Canadians, that we could lose territory simply by not being there, it is becoming a reality.
As the ice starts to break up more and more and ships are trying to get through on a more consistent basis, sovereignty comes into question, because we have absolutely no ability to actually be out on the water watching the polluters, the shipping traffic and the submarines of other countries go through our coastal waters in the north. Certainly our submarines cannot go out there anymore.
We need to start supporting our Coast Guard in a serious way. If we are actually going to enforce what we think is good legislation and a good amendment to that legislation, we need to at some point get serious about the notion that we have enormous, beautiful and resilient coasts that need our protection.