House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industry.


Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

10:25 a.m.


Lee Richardson Conservative Calgary South Centre, AB

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.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

10:35 a.m.


Loyola Hearn Conservative St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, our party is delighted to have been involved to some degree in the motion because it does strengthen the bill. However the bill itself only goes so far. It would increase fines, which, without any no doubt, would be a deterrent and would perhaps make people think twice before dumping bilge oil, in particular.

Over the years most ship owners have known there was little chance of them getting caught so it did not matter to them. In this day and age, when we have good, on shore dumping facilities and we have the technology to greatly reduce pollutants in the waters that boats discharge, if they are installed properly on the boats, there should be little excuse for the major dumping of oil into our waters.

I would just like the members comments on the fact that on one hand we are increasing fines, but on the other hand the government is cutting back on overflights, which has happened. It is also reducing the number of vessels, as has been done in the east coast, which ply our waters, such as fishery patrol boats and the Coast Guard, knowing that our radar system is so poorly maintained, particularly on the west coast, that we cannot do a proper job.

On one hand, we are doing cosmetics and on the other hand, where it really counts, we are seeing major cutbacks. How can we ever solve a problem unless we stop talking about it and instead start doing something about it?

The other thing we see is the infighting within the present government. The Department of Justice, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are fighting over jurisdiction. We saw one major case of the Tecam Sea which should have been a hard and fast case against illegal dumping at sea. Every bit of evidence we would think we would need was there but because of infighting among departments, the case was dropped before it went to court and another boat sails away free and our waters are polluted.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

10:35 a.m.


Lee Richardson Conservative Calgary South Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl has hit the nail on the head. He is a man who understands his constituency and knows the problems that exist off the east coast of Canada. He is bang on. The problems do continue with regard to turf wars between government departments. There does not seem to be any coordination at all.

I would suggest that these fines should be directed into a damage fund to mitigate damages caused by these oil spills. It seems to me, and I think the hon. member would agree, that we could also increase enforcement and surveillance off our coast. There is no point in having this legislation if we are not going to be able to detect these ships that are causing the problem.

It is bad enforcement. It is about turf wars between government departments. This has to stop. I appreciate the member's question because this is exactly where the problem lies now. We have resolved the fines issue; it is now about enforcement. It is about the government getting its act together. We must get these departments working together to enforce and hopefully prosecute these polluters.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

10:40 a.m.


Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

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.

The fine—

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.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

10:55 a.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-15 at this stage. This is a bill aimed at improving the situation concerning oil discharges, in the Atlantic in particular. This bill, comprised of some 45 pages, and intended to bring about some considerable improvements, has had the support of the Bloc Québécois in recent weeks and months.

Before going into further detail, I should point out that the House of Commons, during a previous session, had already dealt with a bill that was, to all intents and purposes, identical. That bill was C-34, which was essentially intended to bring about the changes we are looking at today.

As well, hon. members need to be reminded of how the government used its Liberal majority in the parliamentary committee at that time to ram the bill down the members' throats, to force them to endorse it, when the Bloc Québécois would have liked to have seen witnesses called in order for it to be improved upon.

I recall certain events during that session when the LIberals in this House simply made up their minds to push aside all essential debates on this matter. I was totally amazed when we came to examine Bill C-15 in parliamentary committee, where we had to really push to get witnesses allowed to appear. This was simply rejected out of hand by numerous committee members, on the grounds that what they would be telling us we had heard already, that it was just the same old, same old. Yet hon. members must keep in mind that the previous committee on the environment and sustainable development had never heard any witnesses on this aspect of Bill C-34.

We focused all our efforts and will on an in-depth study of the bill, not on delaying tactics. In fact, we improved it instead—I will go further into that shortly—by making the time for amendments to be proposed. That time was gained, in part through the efforts of my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou and myself, in order to come up with the bill as we have it before us today.

Essentially, the purpose of this bill is to correct the way or to provide more powers on the way the act must be enforced in Canada. It is aimed at increasing fines and penalties imposed on vessel owners who decide to be totally irresponsible when it comes to protecting the environment. It must be noted that this bill is aimed first at increasing, and I would even say at quadrupling fines currently imposed for oil discharges, particularly in the Atlantic region. It is aimed at quadrupling and increasing by up to $1 million fines imposed on a vessel that deliberately discharges oil.

Moreover, and I will get back to this, concerning sanctions, the issue is not simply increasing them or establishing maximum amounts. The Bloc Québécois felt it essential that we establish a minimum threshold concerning sanctions and that we no longer let a judge alone decide sanctions. I will get back to this, because in parliamentary committee, we studied an amendment, which was introduced by my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou and was agreed to by the committee, that is precisely aimed at establishing a minimal threshold for penalties and fines when vessels and owners commit an offence.

In addition, the bill tries to maximize our chances of finding the culprits. Indeed, in the marine industry, it is quite often difficult, obviously, to identify vessel owners. Why? Because it is quite often difficult, when enforcing the act, to identify the culprits. That is why this industry has several numbered businesses. This is one of the industries where we find a significant number of numbered businesses, making it difficult for the government to enforce the act and to identify the culprits.

The bill seeks to ensure that the legislator will be able to lay charges not only against the owners but also against the employees of the company operating the ship caught polluting. Consequently, the bill quadruples the fines and provides the means by which to identify the guilty parties by attempting to target specifically the individual responsible.

Furthermore, the bill seeks to expand the area over which the legislation applies. This would mean that primary enforcement officers would be able to inspect and search polluting ships in Canadians ports and within a zone of over 200 nautical miles offshore.

Why is this so important? Because all too often, polluting ships discharge oily waste outside the area covered by the current legislation, which creates major loopholes for polluters. The new legislation will allow us to ensure that the guilty parties are punished. This bill seeks to expand the area covered by the legislation in order to eliminate obvious contradictions.

Finally, this bill expands the powers of Environment Canada to inspect, arrest and detain ships. I insist on this point, because, all too often in this House, we have seen the passing of bills that seek to increase the authority and weight of legislation. However, quite often, their enforcement leaves something to be desired. We end up with stiffer laws, but they are not enforced.

I am pleased to see that the bill will increase the enforcement powers regarding arrests and inspections. We are, however, in a position today to make the solemn commitment that the legislation will be enforced and that it will not be like other bills passed in this Parliament, which ultimately sought only to create legislation but without any real enforcement.

Consequently, we are quite pleased, but it is like the saying goes: we will have to wait and see. That is somewhat how the legislation ends, because that is the last of the four points I wanted to make. Naturally, the legislation needs to be improved, but will it truly be enforced? I have my doubts.

However, we were not content with simply passing the bill. I will continue to be vigilant in committee. I remind the hon. members that when a bill is introduced, it is important to take the time to study it. It is not just a matter of listening to the minister and then passing it, clause by clause, at the same committee meeting. This is a totally irresponsible attitude, especially when witnesses indicate that they intend to appear.

We have a responsibility. Even if the witnesses themselves or their testimony does not really suit us, it is our responsibility to listen to them. Then we can decide whether to change the legislation or not. This period of time that we took together permitted the adoption of an amendment on minimum penalties. That is a first, a historic moment.

If we had not taken the time to think, this amendment probably would not have been adopted, and we would not have been able to introduce it in this House. The Chair would have told the hon. members quite rightly that they had had an opportunity to make the said changes in committee. But it was not the case.

I am proud today to remind the hon. members that my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou got an amendment adopted in the in committee to have a minimum fine of $500,000 or $100,000 imposed, depending on the type of ship. This is a first in environmental matters. We should definitely be proud of it. What we are also proud of is the fact that the committee supported this amendment.

As I reminded the hon. members yesterday in this House, we also supported an amendment introduced by the government to ensure that the sums collected will not go to the consolidated revenue fund or to fund all sorts of sometimes questionable government activities. A fund will be created into which the money for the damages will be paid. We have a guarantee that the amounts that are collected will go into a compensation fund in case of discharges or other catastrophes.

We therefore have an imperfect bill. However, in the current situation, we managed to do things quickly, to be sure, but very effectively. As a result, this bill will return today to the Senate. On this side of the House, we have always hoped to proceed quickly so that the essence, the spirit of the bill, namely protecting birds, is implemented as soon as possible. We had to make these changes, which were necessary. Greater penalties were needed for people who decide to be totally irresponsible where the environment is concerned.

Today, I am back with the Bloc amendment. What we are about to vote on is quite unusual. We have to remember that the average fine set by Canadian judges for oil discharges is $30,000. This is peanuts for big corporations responsible for an oil discharge, like Canada Steamship Lines, for instance, or other multinationals.

As I said before, a drop the size of a quarter is enough to kill a bird. Each year, more than 300,000 birds are killed by discharges by vessel owners. Up until now, how much were the fines imposed in Canada on large corporations like Canada Steamship Lines and others? The average fine set by judges in Canada is $30,000. That is 10 times less than in the United States and 15 times less than in Great Britain. For a big corporation like Canada Steamship Lines, $30,000 is peanuts.

The Bloc Québécois amendment finally provides for a minimum fine which we find acceptable for big corporations that often mistreat the crews working on their ships. The amount of the minimum fine will depend, of course, on the type of vessel.

Today, the end is near. We have before the House a bill which we hope the Senate will pass as soon as possible. Our laws are such that the fines for corporations or individuals who act irresponsibly are small. That is where this legislation will come into play.

It is thus with great pleasure that we will vote for Bill C-15 and for the amendment that was proposed by the government. What we wish for, and this is the last wish, is that we no longer experience what we went through with the Species at Risk Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act or the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. We adopted legislation, but, quite often, it is not enforced. I hope that the government will take note and put the means in place so that, finally, birds can be protected as they deserve to be.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:15 a.m.


Lee Richardson Conservative Calgary South Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his remarks and for his contribution to the committee in the passing of the bill.

I have some sympathy with regard to his comments on what appeared to be the rushing of the bill through committee and the lack of opportunity for some witnesses to appear before it. We had a number of requests from some of the larger shipping companies and organizations to appear as witnesses before the committee. Apparently, the response was that the bill had been around, albeit in a different form, Bill C-34, for the past two years and that they had adequate notice.

The hon. member makes a very good point that we need to discuss these matters. I do not think we would have had the amendments, which have been spoken to so highly of on all sides of the House today, if we had not had this in committee for the length of time we did. This is an example of how well committees can cooperate, particularly in a minority government, to bring forward solid legislation.

I want to ask the hon. member about his comments with regard to Canada Steamship Lines. Was he suggesting that it was one of the major polluters? Is it correct that it had a record fine of up to $30,000? Is it his sense that the money collected should go more toward the cleanup, as the legislation suggests? Earlier we talked about including a provision to have some of the fine proceeds go toward additional surveillance and enforcement of the legislation.

Could the member comment on those issues?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:15 a.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, indeed, I said that. I am not saying that Canada Steamship Lines is the greatest polluter; that is not necessarily what I am saying. However, there is a fact, and it is that, a few years ago, Canada Steamship Lines was fined for discharging oil in eastern Canada, in the Atlantic.

Canada Steamship Lines is a vessel owner, among many others, which, intentionally or not, also discharged oil in the Atlantic. It was found guilty and had to pay a fine.

What is important is to improve practices, because the risks are huge. I think this should cause us to reflect on the way that, strategically, we use oil. As a matter of fact, two weeks ago, there was an environmental disaster in the eastern part of the country. Of course, you will tell me that this was from a drilling platform, but we must find ways to ensure that this situation does not happen again.

I think that minimal fines are most certainly the best way to convince the major shipowners to change their practices. However, these fines, and the financial means the government will use, must not be used for anything other than cleanup. I think this is perfectly normal. In my view, the principle of precaution must prevail. We must be able to react quickly. We must not end up in the same situation that other departments are in.

I will give a very simple example. We notice that several departments, such as National Defence and Transport, are responsible for contaminated sites in many regions of Canada. They come up with decontamination plans, but the funding never follows. This kind of situation must come to an end.

If there are discharges, we will not be scrambling for the necessary funds to begin cleanup. A fund will be set up. Fines collected will go into this fund and we will be able to move quickly, which is much more efficient than the government's current tendency to identify contaminated sites and draft decontamination plans only to be without the necessary funds to follow through.

In my view, that is what this government amendment will help us to avoid. Most certainly, all government departments should have this same setup.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:20 a.m.


Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to thank and congratulate the member for the very effective manner in which he has brought the concerns with respect to this bill through the committee process to the House.

The member will recall that we heard testimony from witnesses from the Justice Department who indicated that a minimum fine might in fact go opposite to the impact we wish to achieve. A minimum fine was to make it very clear to polluters that they were going to be dealt with in a very punitive manner.

The theory went this way. A minimum fine of $500,000 for those ships over 5,000 tonnes might in fact be seen by the court to be overly punitive and might persuade the court not to deal with the intent of the maximum fine, such that the very opposite might be the case. Judges might be more convinced that because of the nature and magnitude of the fine, they might not apply that regime to those who allegedly had polluted the sea.

Does the member feel that this point of view had any validity? From his perspective, how would that amendment be even more effective in achieving the intent of the bill, which is to deal very effectively with those people who are polluting at sea?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:20 a.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, if we try this, history will be the judge. I understand what the Minister of Justice was talking about. On the other hand, in real life, the average fine is $30,000. I think that looks like a licence to pollute. Fining a big marine industry, shipowner or shipping company $30,000 for having discharged in our waters is completely irresponsible and ridiculous.

It is our duty to raise that penalty, perhaps quadrupling it, as the bill stipulates. We cannot accept such ridiculously low fines. It is very embarrassing when we compare our fines to those levied by our neighbours in the United States and Great Britain.

Current legislation and conditions may give big shipping companies and industries the impression they have permission to pollute. But that is not true. Legislators must send a clear message that such behaviour will not be tolerated. We will not leave it to the courts to decide this issue. Experience shows us that decisions here are quite different from those in the United States and elsewhere, and impose few constraints. In view of this situation, we, as legislators, must act.

If the courts had imposed fines of $200,000 on shipping companies for their illegal discharges, we would probably not have come to this stage, and the motion certainly would not have been introduced by the Bloc Québécois. We were forced to introduce this amendment because we concluded that the court-imposed penalties were ridiculously low. The bar had to be raised. We will see how things turn out. Perhaps this part of the law will be contested. Nevertheless, it is worth the trouble of making the amendment. I would like to see a shipping magnate take part in a public debate to argue that the minimum fine is too high. I do not think that will happen. We must assume our responsibilities.

The fines imposed by the court so far are not consistent with the degree of harm done to the environment and ecosystems by these bad practices. The fines we impose must be commensurate with the negative impact of those actions. If not, we will be sending the message that pollution is allowed, and up to a point, it pays well. For a major multinational, $30,000 is just peanuts. We have to send the opposite message. That is exactly what the Bloc Québécois's amendment, adopted by the committee, is intended to do.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members


Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members


Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Fredericton New Brunswick


Andy Scott Liberalfor the Minister of Finance

moved that Bill S-17, an act to implement an agreement, conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Gabon, Ireland, Armenia, Oman and Azerbaijan for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario


John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak to Bill S-17, the tax conventions implementation act, 2004, at second reading.

This legislation would implement four new tax treaties that Canada has recently signed with Gabon, Armenia, Oman and Azerbaijan. The bill would also implement a new treaty with Ireland, replacing the older treaty that is already in effect.

These bills are simultaneously quite simple and yet exceedingly complex. For instance, the implementing part of the bill is relatively simple. The first section deals with the title; the second section deals with what a convention means; and the third section, which is probably the most critical section, indicates that the convention is approved and has the force of law in Canada. In effect, we are applying the rule of law to these treaties.

The fourth section deals with any inconsistencies between the tax regimes of these various countries and our own, and methods to resolve those inconsistencies. The fifth section deals with the opportunity for the national revenue minister to make any regulations which he may deem to be appropriate. The final section deals with the notification that the Minister of Finance must give in order to give the bill the force of law.

As I said, the bill is quite simple. There are only six sections in it and yet schedules 1 and 2 run 136 pages. They are sufficiently complex and there are not that many people in the House who would actually understand all of the nuances of those schedules, myself included.

The bill builds on Canada's well established network of tax treaties with other countries, which happens to be one of the most extensive of any country in the world. At present, we have 83 treaties in effect. The passage of Bill S-17 would make that 87. The new treaties would provide taxpayers and businesses, both in Canada and in these other countries, with more predictable and equitable tax results in their cross-border dealings.

Before discussing these treaties any further, I want to provide the House with a brief overview of the importance of tax treaties and why it is necessary for the bill to be passed.

As hon. members know, the government has long been committed to enhancing fairness in the tax system. These tax treaties contribute to that goal. Since income tax was first put in place back in 1917, Canada has taxed both the worldwide income of Canadian residents and the Canadian source income of non-residents.

All income of Canadian residents, whether earned here or abroad, is subject to tax in Canada. Non-residents, on the other hand, are taxed here only to the extent that they participate in the economic life of Canada or receive income from sources of business in Canada.

Tax treaties, or income tax conventions, or agreements as they are sometimes called, are an integral part of our tax system. Basically, they set out the degree to which one country can tax the income of a resident of another country.

The benefits to Canada having tax treaties in place with other countries are significant. We already have 83 in place which attests to this fact. For example, tax treaties provide certainty on how Canadians will be taxed abroad. At the same time, they assure our treaty partners of how their residents will be treated in Canada. Tax treaties also benefit the Canadian economy by contributing to a sound framework for international trade and investment.

There are definite economic disadvantages for countries that do not enter into tax agreements with other countries. The absence of such agreements can have harmful effects on the economic relations between countries. I will explain that.

The absence of tax treaties makes the threat of double taxation a great concern to taxpayers. Double taxation occurs when a taxpayer lives in one country and earns income in another. Without a tax treaty in place to set out the tax rules, the same income can be taxed in both countries without consequential relief. This situation can have a negative impact on the expansion of trade, and the movement of capital and labour between countries.

It is only natural that investors, traders and others with international dealings want to know how they will be taxed before they commit to doing business in the country. For example, when considering doing business in Canada, foreign investors and traders are anxious to know the tax implications associated with their activities in that country. They also want assurances that they will be treated fairly.

Tax treaties establish rules as to how the tax regime of one country would interact with that of another, thus removing much of the uncertainty about the tax implications associated with doing business, working, or otherwise earning income from abroad.

It is important to note the fact that tax treaties are international agreements that require official notice be given before they can be terminated. That in itself adds to a degree of certainty. The tax rules range from an allocation of taxing rights between the two countries to the establishment of a mechanism to resolve tax disputes between those countries.

All these measures promote certainty and stability and help produce a better business climate.

Tax treaties, including the ones enacted in the bill, are especially designed to facilitate trade, investment and other activities between Canada and its treaty partners. They are developed with two main objectives in mind.

The first, and probably the most important, objective of tax treaties is to avoid double taxation and provide a level of certainty about the tax rules that apply to international transactions.

The second objective of tax treaties is to encourage cooperation between tax authorities in Canada and the treaty countries to prevent tax evasion and tax avoidance.

Tax treaties play an important role in protecting Canada's tax base by allowing information to be exchanged between our revenue authorities and their counterparts in countries with which we have tax treaties.

I would like to return to the issue of double taxation. Relief from double taxation is so very necessary and deserves to be discussed in some detail. The potential arises when a taxpayer lives in one country and earns income in another. Without a tax treaty, both countries could claim tax on the income without providing the taxpayer with any measures of relief for the tax paid in the other country. This is simply unfair.

To alleviate the potential for this happening, a tax treaty between the two countries allocates taxing authority with respect to a given item of income in one of three ways: first, the income may be taxed exclusively in the country in which it arises; second, it may be taxed in the country in which the taxpayer resides; or, it may be taxable in both the source country and the residence country, with relief from double taxation provided in some form, usually the country of residence.

For example, if a Canadian resident employed by a Canadian company is sent on a short term assignment, say for three months in any one of the five countries talked about in this bill, Canada has the exclusive right to tax that person's employment income. However, in the case of most items of income and capital, the right to tax is shared, although for certain types of income, such as dividends and interest, the rate of tax that may be imposed in the state of source is limited.

Put another way, the treaties in the bill contain provisions that would alleviate the requirement for taxpayers in one country who carry on business in the treaty partner country to pay tax in the treaty partner country on their business profits earned in that country if they are not meaningful participants in the economic life of that country.

There is another aspect of tax treaties that I want to discuss, and that is the importance of withholding taxes. Bill S-17 provides for several withholding tax rate reductions.

Withholding taxes are a common feature of the international taxation system. In Canada's case, they are levied on certain payments that Canadian residents make to non-residents. These payments include interest, dividends and royalties, for example. Withholding taxes are often levied by a country on the gross amount of certain types of income paid to non-residents and such taxes normally represent the non-resident's final obligation with respect to income tax payable in that country with respect to that particular income.

The tax treaties in the bill all provide for certain reductions in withholding tax rates. For example, without a treaty or other legislated exemption, Canada taxes various categories of income paid to non-residents at the rate of 25%. Most of Canada's trading partners impose a similar level of withholding tax.

However, withholding taxes do not provide for the deductability of expenses incurred in generating income and are imposed on the gross amount of the payment. The taxpayer will therefore be subject to an effective rate that is significantly higher than the tax rate that applies to net income in either the source or the residence country.

To remedy this, Canada's network of tax treaties limits the rate of withholding tax that can be withheld by the source country on various types of income so as to more accurately reflect the level of taxes that would be payable on a net income basis. Consequently, the treaties in the bill provide various limits, usually at the rate of 5%, 10% or 15% on dividends, depending on the circumstances, and 10% on the case of interest in royalties. In some instances, royalties paid for through the use of copyright, computer software, patents and know-how are completely exempt from withholding tax.

Finally, these treaties also implement other measures which ensure that tax consequences of certain transactions are in line with Canadian tax policy. Unfortunately, time does not permit to go into details about these matters today, to the great disappointment of my colleagues opposite.

However, I do want to point out that Bill S-17 is standard routine legislation. Part of the fact is that these treaties, like their predecessors, are modelled on the OECD model tax convention, which is accepted by most countries around the world. The provisions in these particular treaties comply fully with the international norms that apply to such treaties.

Bill S-17 also addresses fair taxation and good, international trade relations.

Fairness in the tax system which, as we all know, is an ongoing priority of the government, demands that Canadians should not find themselves subject to double taxation. Nor should there be any evasion or avoidance of taxes. That is what these tax treaties work to do: eliminate double taxation and prevent tax evasion and avoidance.

Other meaningful benefits will also result once these treaties come into force. The treaties covered under Bill S-17 also address a number of the important tax treaty histories such as the taxation of capital gains realized on the alienation of foreign properties, the taxation of pensions and annuities paid to non-residents as well the prevention of a discrimination based upon a taxpayers nationality.

As I stated at the beginning of my remarks, Bill S-17 represents a part of Canada's ongoing efforts to expand its network of tax treaties with other countries. The benefits of the proposed legislation are clear. I therefore encourage all hon. members to support the bill.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

11:40 a.m.


Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the comments of the parliamentary secretary. I would guess that a bill like this works into the overall context of coming up with fair taxation policies between all the countries of the world, and this is just the latest instalment. It brings Canada into agreement with a number of countries to ensure that people are treated fairly. This is presumably a step forward for Canadians who live in Gabon or those from Gabon who live in Canada as well as the other countries mentioned.

I was interested in what the parliamentary secretary had to say on the bill. The contents of the bill are perfectly reasonable and of course are a step in the right direction. I hope the parliamentary secretary would agree with me that more has to be done between Canada and other countries of the world.

I would like to bring to his attention one of the unfairnesses that exists between Canada and, my example, that of the United Kingdom.

There is a treaty between Canada and Great Britain that protects individuals against double taxation. Of course that would be a very important one. As important as the countries are, as listed by the parliamentary secretary, hundreds of thousands of people who originally lived or were citizens of the United Kingdom now reside in Canada and vice versa. It is a very important relationship.

Therefore, I would like to bring to his attention a matter that has been brought to my attention. That is the treatment of pensions of individuals who live in one or the other countries. Specifically, I have individuals in my riding, and of course individuals throughout Canada, who have obtained a pension from the United Kingdom for whatever reason, but those pensions are not indexed. We have the situation where people may have emigrated from Britain say in 1970, they become entitled to a British pension, but their pensions are not indexed. Once one makes inquiries as to why they are not indexed, they say that there is no reciprocal treaty between Canada and the United Kingdom.

For instance, if a Canadian goes to the United Kingdom, there is no arrangements to have these pensions indexed. It seems to me that might be an area for the parliamentary secretary and the department to look into. We want to ensure that Canadians who live in Great Britain and British citizens who live in Canada get every benefit.

I know if one is entitled to American social security, that is indexed even though one is a resident of Canada and likewise if one is a Canadian citizen living in the United States. There is no problem with the indexing of Canadian pensions.

My understanding is that all this would take is an agreement that both countries would do it for the residents of each other's country. It seems in line with what the parliamentary secretary said about increasing the fairness to citizens who live abroad. This is something else I hope he would add to the list of things I am sure he is looking into.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

11:45 a.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, it must be Christmas because I agree with the member. It is well said, and he raises a very valid point. The issue is the indexation of the pensions, and there is not a reciprocal indexation from the British authorities.

I can recollect a specific meeting with the High Commissioner on this very point, with colleagues from our party, his and others as well. Frankly, the High Commissioner was not very satisfactory in his answer with respect to the indexation.

In the member's second point, as to whether this can be included in a tax convention, I am hesitant to give a straightforward answer on that point. The issue is indexation of the pension rather than the taxation of the pension. Generally, treaties deal with the taxation of the pension, not the indexation, because pensions get treated as income.

I would finally note that Canada does have a tax treaty with the United Kingdom. It is one of the 83, about to 87, countries with which we have concluded a treaty. However, I do not know frankly what will persuade British authorities to treat Canadians living in Canada who receive British pensions properly.

I welcome the member's comments, and I think he is spot on.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I apologize to the member, but this will not take too long.

Discussions have been held among all parties, and if you were to seek it, I think you would find unanimous consent of the House to adopt the following motion:

That, following Private Members' Business today, the House continue to sit, in committee of the whole, no later than 9 p.m., to consider the situation facing the textile industry. That, during the debate, the Chair shall not receive any quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent.

That all speeches be limited to a maximum of ten minutes and be followed by a period of five minutes for questions and comments. And, when no member rises to speak or at 9 p.m., whichever comes first, the Chair shall leave the Chair, and the House shall adjourn until the next sitting day.

I believe there is consent from all parties.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-17, an act to implement an agreement, conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Gabon, Ireland, Armenia, Oman and Azerbaijan for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

11:50 a.m.


Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, the House will be relieved to know that I do not intend to speak for very long on this fairly straightforward bill originating in the Senate, as is the tradition with these tax treaties.

Effectively, just to sum up, it brings about tax treaties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Gabon and Oman. The idea is to ensure that we do not have double taxation for people who may be Canadian nationals living in one of these countries, for instance, so that they do not end up paying tax twice on income that they have received. The other part of it is to ensure that information is shared between countries so that we do not have a problem with tax evasion.

This is something that is eminently supportable, but of course I would be remiss if I did not stand up and say how much we regret that this is not a bill that brings about the reduction of taxes within Canada. I simply have to point that out. I never miss an opportunity to do that, especially as we get close to Christmas and people are struggling to find ways to meet their obligations. They are running out to the stores right now and purchasing gifts. It would be great if this were a bill to cut taxes. Sadly, it is not.

I simply want to say that the only concern the Conservative Party of Canada has with this is not really a concern with the bill. It is our hope that the government will use these new arrangements that we have with these countries to push to ensure that these countries are in fact respecting human rights.

We did a quick search on different websites to look at the human rights records of some of these countries. For instance, the human rights record in Azerbaijan is not good. In fact, it is deplorable.

While it is important to engage these countries on issues like a tax treaty, now that we have that kind of arrangement I hope the government will use its leverage with countries like Azerbaijan to insist that human rights be respected in these places. Their records are not good. If they are going to enjoy the popular support of countries around the world, they simply have to bring their countries into the 21st century and ensure that they do in fact respect fundamental human rights. That is certainly not too much to ask.

That is really all I have to say on this issue. The Conservative Party supports the idea of tax treaties. We support the idea of ensuring that there is commonality between countries when it comes to treatment of income. That is pretty fundamental.

I will simply end by saying once again that we very much look forward to the day when the parliamentary secretary stands up and brings in a tax bill that calls for a reduction in taxes so that in fact Canadians can enjoy more of their own income, which they work so hard to earn.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario


John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

As I say, Mr. Speaker, it really must be Christmas because I find myself in agreement with almost everything that the member opposite brings forward.

I want to go to the substantive point of his speech, which had to do with the effect on human rights that entering into these treaties may or may not have. This actually came up when the bill was first presented to the Senate. We had some very thoughtful discussion about whether it is good to enter into a tax treaty arrangement with a country that routinely abuses human rights. The member pointed to one example and there are certainly others where we are carrying on negotiations.

As a point of philosophy or a point of principle, does the member for Medicine Hat think it is a good idea to enter into tax conventions and treaties with a country that abuses human rights or should we restrict ourselves only to tax treaties and conventions with countries that have better human rights records?

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

11:55 a.m.


Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. I would say that I think this is a strategic decision that countries make probably very often in coordination with other countries when one particular country may be behaving in some cases in a way that most of us find to be reprehensible. I think it is a strategic decision that countries may make.

We run into this all the time. Countries get together and ask whether they should expel a particular country from the Commonwealth, for example. I think a judgment has to be made based on that particular situation.

I would say as a rule that I think it is probably a good idea to engage these countries to a large degree. I would point to the case of China. The experience has been that certainly in the case of China engagement has moved the yardsticks forward. China, for instance, has a long way to go when it comes to the issue of human rights. In fact, it has a terrible record when it comes to that, but there are new freedoms in China that did not exist before countries engaged it, and that is a good thing.

While it probably would not be responsible to generalize based on a particular example, I think there is some evidence to show that when we do engage very often it does lead to progressive improvement in human rights. I hope that will be the case when it comes to some of the countries we are engaging with in this particular tax treaty.