Mr. Speaker, I am especially pleased to speak toBill C-15, which the Bloc Québécois supports, since we moved an amendment to this bill. This makes the bill all the more interesting to us.
A number of points need to be clarified. I was listening to my hon. colleague from Charlottetown congratulating himself on the amendment and the fact that the best amendments have several fathers. It certainly sounds like chicken droppings have all of a sudden become chicken soup. Just a moment ago, the Liberals were busy patting themselves on the back about the amendment, saying how interesting it was, so much so in fact that an amendment was included to have the fines received deposited in an environmental damages fund. But it should be pointed out that, at the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, all but one Liberal member, who abstained, voted against this very amendment.
I have seen things change quickly in the past and, once again, I have seen that chicken droppings have turned into chicken soup, and very good soup at that. I guess it would be more pleasant for marine wildlife to be swimming in this chicken soup than in the waters available to them and the migratory birds.
This legislation is fundamental and important, it has unfortunately been too long in coming. Prior to this legislation, as soon as a vessel got outside the 12 mile limit, it was beyond reach. There was also some administrative carelessness, as out of an estimated 2,000 instances of discharge in 2000, five went to court. In 2001, the total was four and in 2002, only three out of 2000.
So this new legislation will have more teeth, and will extend the zone from the 12-mile limit to the 200 mile economic limit. This is a very good thing, but there is still the major issue of application.
The amendment proposed by the Bloc Québécois is a first as far as Canadian environmental law is concerned. I think it would be worthwhile citing it, as it is so fundamental. The Liberals fought in committee, but suddenly find it is wonderful. This is the amendment I tabled in committee:
That Bill C-15, in Clause 9, be amended by adding after line 11 on page 13 the following: “In the case of an offence under section 5.1 that is committed by a vessel of 5,000 tonnes deadweight or over,the fine imposed under paragraph (1.1)(a) shall not be less than $500,000.”
In plain language, this means the matter will go to court. If there is a guilty verdict, the judge cannot impose a fine of less than $500,000.
that is, the fine imposed under paragraph (b)
The fine imposed under paragraph (1.1) shall not be less than $100,000.
In fact, the bill deals with a procedure of summary conviction. So the fine is a minimum of $100,000 for the fast track procedure and $500,000 after a full trial. That is what this amendment is all about. It was adopted thanks to the support of the Conservatives, who had brought in a similar but less complete amendment, and thanks to the support of the NDP, but no thanks to the Liberal members of the committee, who opposed it. I think that things need to be brought out into the open. A spade must be called a spade. A government trying to pirate something is a government trying to pirate something.
So we have a bill here that has been improved. As I was saying, it is a first in Canadian environmental law. It is rather particular. You need to know that, in Canada, not only was there no minimum fine in the legislation until now, but polluters could and still can deduct their fines from their taxes. People do not realize that. We are in the realm of the polluter payee. We have seen it in the oil industry in Western Canada in many regards. There is a bill to correct this state of affairs. I do not hope that there will be any discharges, but if there are, the perpetrators must be punished, and a rehabilitation fund must be established. That is important.
That said, I grew up along the St. Lawrence. My riding of Beauport—Limoilou is along the St. Lawrence in a place where the river is not very wide. In my constituency, there is the baie de Beauport. They want to invest a lot of money there to make it a four season destination. That is very important. Some major municipal investments have been made to treat waste water so that, at certain times of the year, it is even possible to swim right in the middle of Quebec City. In this baie de Beauport, you can do water sports and various other things.
Just one discharge could compromise for years the use of a beach in the heart of a city in areas where working people live.
Preserving the St. Lawrence and its shoreline, prosecuting and sentencing people who sail around in what we call “rustbuckets” where I come from, that is to say, ships that are often not seaworthy and could leak discharge at any time, that is something that is close to my heart. It is important.
In another professional life, I worked on establishing Stratégies Saint-Laurent, which is a group of organizations, firms and individuals interested in the St. Lawrence, all along the St. Lawrence, the Saguenay and the baie des Chaleurs. They are consultation committees. They are called ZIPs, priority intervention zones, and each has its own ZIP committee. They were inspired by the famous hot spots in the Great Lakes. These committees are interested in having action plans to clean up the St. Lawrence, make it accessible, and conserve sensitive wetlands threatened by the artificialization of the banks and by discharges.
For me, the St. Lawrence River is not an abstraction. The St. Lawrence is the waterway that was used by my ancestors to populate Quebec. It is extremely important. This legislation can protect the St. Lawrence. I proposed an amendment—and I am saying this without false modesty—which, in my opinion, is historic, because it will truly encourage people not to pollute anymore.
Currently, when people get caught, the average fine in Canada is $30,000. We are talking here about two convictions out of 2,000 violations. In terms of percentage, we have to use decimals and zeros before the decimals. In other words, Canada was a haven for polluting freighters, or for shipowners who hardly care. This bill will allow us to prosecute companies, whether it is the Canada Steamship Lines or others, that are bad corporate citizens and make them pay for the damage they cause and for what they do.
Therefore, this is extremely important. We were imposing fines of $30,000 Canadian, while the average fine in the United States for similar violations is $509,000 U.S. In Great Britain, in the United Kingdom, it is $411,000 U.S. Such are the average fines that are imposed. This is why making a little detour via Canada to get rid of bilge water and to empty out the tanks was a bargain. Big deal. It is nothing to take a trip at night, in the fog, to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where surveillance is almost impossible and rarely done, and pollute. Anyone caught can simply write a cheque for a small amount, include it to his tax return, and bingo. These things must no longer happen and must no longer be tolerated.
The Bloc Québécois supports the bill. However, we are well aware of the government's ineffectiveness and we hope that an agreement can be reached between departments to truly implement this bill, so that it does not become yet another nice piece of legislation based on interesting principles, but never implemented.
I am happy to see that curiously, as things have now turned out, the Liberal members of the committee have acquired some wisdom, because I feared that the amendment I had proposed would not take effect, or, that its effect would be delayed through legislative tricks, to protect unknown parties.
I can see that this is not a likely after all. I have seen in this House an amendment passed by committee to which the government tried to propose a counter-amendment. I believe that was the case with the amendment saying that the security programs—I do not remember the bill number—had to respect provincial jurisdictions. This amendment had been adopted by the committee and then they tried to withdraw it in a rather stupid way.
When the majority in a committee adopts a motion or amendment, we know that this House also represents that majority. Consequently, I believe that this government is enjoying being humbled a bit, and is starting to like it, perhaps becoming a bit masochistic. This is not the first time such behaviour has been corrected in this House. It will not be the last time for the minority government.
We are not doing it in order to humiliate anyone; we are doing it with the goal of better serving our citizens, the people of Quebec. By the same stroke, we think we are also serving the interests of people in the rest of Canada.
When we introduce such ideas, it forces the government to act. The government has some habits of arrogance, inefficiency and spending in sectors where they do not have jurisdiction. Thus, we believe we are improving things and doing our work.
Honestly, as this session ends—my first session—I am particularly proud of the Bloc Québécois caucus. They have been consistent, thorough and very hard-working, on the employment insurance issue, denouncing interference, amending the throne speech, and even achieving an eventual vote on the missile defence shield. The Bloc Québécois has ardently defended the values of Quebeckers, namely honesty and integrity. That is something grand. We have also introduced private members' bills. My colleague, the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles has done extraordinary work. But I do not want my other colleagues to be jealous. Every one of the Bloc Québécois MPs has done a truly remarkable job.
I am proud to belong to a caucus that has been working hard in committees come hell or high water. Recently, through the Subcommittee on the Employment Insurance Funds, we pushed for an independent fund and won. It is fantastic. I believe the unemployed expected nothing less from us.
Unfortunately the fact that the government went ahead and changed the EI premiums without any consultation and without addressing the fundamental unfairness of the system for first-time contributors shows its arrogance. It is clueless.
I now go back to Bill C-15. When one fights tooth and nail in committee claiming that a minimum fine for polluters is not desirable, one wonders who is being defended: the environment or certain polluters? And then we are told it is common sense. It is easy to see why, during the most recent election, voters were reluctant to trust a government whose ethical sense is blowing in the wind. People are fed up with this lack of moral fibre. They want their elected representatives to stand up for values, be consistent and not promise one thing in Newfoundland and another in Vancouver. The Liberals are disappointing everyone with their lack of substance and principles.
Again, the history of Bill C-15 might not be that glorious. Its predecessor, Bill C-34, was put forward in a rush before the election to appear proactive after years of doing nothing. Sometimes very good films are made in pain with actors fighting on the set. In this case we believe we will end up with a good movie after all even though it was directed by a bad government.
We support Bill C-15 even though its wording might have been made simpler by other people. We are still having doubts as to its enforcement though. We are not convinced the government's right hand knows what its left hand is doing. We hope the necessary resources will be put in place.
We know there have been several initiatives. For example, in Newfoundland, there is the I-Stop program that uses a satellite to track oil spills and eventually identify the nearest ship that might be responsible for them. Its interesting but not very effective at night.
Real resources are going to be needed. My colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and myself will push for progress reports on the implementation of the bill. We will not let it quietly drift along only to find out several years later that nothing has changed.
A total of 30,000 seabirds die each year in the Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the same number of birds that died as a result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It is a huge number. We must act and take whatever measure is necessary to monitor our waters. The legislation must be enforced. Also, vessel owners, captains and all seamen must be made aware of their social responsibility. Should they be found guilty of neglect or pollution, they must be liable to real and significant fines as a disincentive to pollute and an incentive to protect the environment.
This is what we want to achieve with this legislation that we have enhanced.
I want to thank the Conservatives for their cooperation. We put forward a more complete amendment than theirs. They recognized it and approved our amendment. I want to thank the Liberals for their belated conversion, despite all the bad faith and fearmongering we saw in committee. Still, they converted.
I believe that this bill, this Christmas gift, if put into effect, would protect our ecosystems, not only seabirds, but all marine ecosystems. At some point in their lives, all marine species—cod, halibut, smelt or crab—go through the larval stage and live as plankton, and if there is an oil slick above them, it would kill millions of future cod, halibut and turbot. So, this legislation is economic. It ensures preservation and sustainable development. It protects migratory birds and ecosystems.
The Bloc Québécois has considered and enhanced this bill. For the first time and hopefully not the last time, we have included tough minimum fines in a Canadian environmental act. Soon, we hope, these fines will no longer be tax deductible. Their being so is both outrageous and immoral.