Mr. Speaker, I thank the members opposite and particularly my colleague from Newfoundland who asked the last question. Incidentally, the answer to the member's question is that the fines are around $20,000 to $25,000 now. The new minimum in the bill proposed by the Conservatives would be $500,000. I will get into that, along with some history of the bill and the reason that it is before the House.
This was first brought to the public's attention in a major way by the minister of the environment from the province of Newfoundland and a number of citizens from Newfoundland several years ago.
The Conservative Party first asked questions in the House on the subject in about 1996. It was followed up by a private members' bill that came to be known as the Mills private bill, after the Conservative member for Red Deer. He introduced his bill after he heard the concerns of many Canadians when they saw the plight of up to 300,000 birds a year being lost to oil spills and the desecration of our coastlines.
The member for Red Deer pursued his bill but the government took no action until the day before the last general election was called when it in fact put forward Bill C-34. Bill C-34 received a lot of discussion but there was no chance of enactment of the legislation because an election was called and the bill died.
The bill was raised again as Bill C-15 in this Parliament and actively pursed by the aforementioned member for Red Deer and the environment committee. This is a Conservative motion and a conservative bill that was adopted by the government and we are very pleased.
There are a number of reasons that we need this bill. It is not only about the tourism, the ecotourism, the fishing industry on both our coasts and the residents who live on those coasts. It is about why the oil spills and the dumping of oily bilge water happens in the first place.
Frankly, I think many of the larger shipping companies, some of which were alluded to by my colleague from Newfoundland just a moment ago, would rather dump oily bilge water into Canadian waters so they can sail into U.S. ports clean. Why? It is simply because the United States has much higher fines and the cost of legally removing the bilge water once in port is very expensive. If the fines in Canada were $20,000 to $25,000 they would actually save money by dumping the oily water, that is if they were caught in the first place because the Canadian surveillance and enforcement was so weak.
I appreciate the acknowledgement of the Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Oceans a moment ago that in fact the Canadian surveillance and enforcement has been so weak.
I want us to be clear on the problem. If these ships were to enter into U.S. ports and they were found to be spilling oily bilge water, they would face enormous fines. The likelihood of them being caught is very high because the American surveillance is much higher than the surveillance in Canadian waters.
We had the recent example of the Terra Nova spill off Newfoundland where ships actually sailed into the oil slick and dumped their oily bilge water to be undetected as they sailed through Canadian waters. If they are not going to get caught this practice will continue.
We are very pleased to support the bill and particularly the Conservative amendment that would raise the minimum fines to $500,000 for ships over 5,000 tonnes. This might seem like a lot of money but it has to be a lot of money in order to be a deterrent so these major vessels do not dump in Canadian waters. We have become a dumping ground for oily bilge from vessels that want go into U.S. ports clean.
The Conservative amendment was passed by the committee with a seven to three vote, which emphasizes the commitment of the environmental committee to the cleaning up of our waters and the prevention of these oily bilge dumpings and spills in our waters.
I am pleased that we also received an amendment when the party opposite became involved in this bill and supported it. The fines that will be imposed for dumping in our waters will go directly to cleanup and to a damages fund to mitigate the damages caused by this oily bilge that is spilled into Canadian waters. Hopefully this will prevent the deaths of so many birds.
I wish Canadians could see the magnificent birds that are lost. It is quite tragic. This is another reason that we are so strongly supportive of the bill.
I would suggest that another major factor in the bill is the enforcement and the fact that we need to increase surveillance and enforce the new laws in the legislation. We have the technology. We have RADARSAT that can follow ships. We have the technology to detect from which vessel the oily bilge was dumped, as was the case in the Terra Nova spill when we found there was bilge and oil in that slick in addition to that which came from the initial ship as a result of people dumping their oil in the middle of an already existing oil slick.
I am pleased the bill would increase fines, increase enforcement and increase the surveillance of the ships so we can prevent Canada from becoming, or continuing to be, a dumping ground for bilge oil.
I am pleased that the Conservative Party raised the motion. It is a tribute to the member for Red Deer who persevered in this matter on behalf of our colleagues on the coast, particularly in Newfoundland, and we are pleased to support the bill.