House of Commons Hansard #50 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was oil.


Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is only right that we say a few words on this bill simply because, as the Minister of Natural Resources just said, it is extremely important to our province and I am sure to Canada as a whole.

I do not necessarily agree with everything the minister said but on the whole we have seen a number of ships over the last few years polluting our waters on both coasts, in the St. Lawrence Seaway and on the Great Lakes. Absolutely nothing has been done and nothing is being done.

The government argues, by introducing this bill, that the fines are not high enough, that they are not a deterrent to boats that dump at sea, which is why they continue to do it. I am a bit skeptical. Perhaps it is because we are approaching an election and we see a rush of things happening, announcements here, there and everywhere. Yesterday we heard three ministers announce that they had issued two citations to two foreign fishing vessels for abusing the regulations on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks.

Over the last 10 years, as I have said, we have issued over 300 citations and the government would not even release information as to how many it had issued. People might say that 300 over 10 years is not a lot. However people must realize that we have very little surveillance and no enforcement on this gigantic area off the coast of my province. Therefore, if, with the minimal surveillance we have, we can detect and issue 300 citations for abuses, we have some idea how much is going on out there.

We do know, through the Access to Information Act, that over 300 citations are on record so why, possibly because it is a week before an election, do we have three ministers rushing out to tell everybody they issued citations?

A citation is like a warning ticket on the highway. It does nothing to stop the abuse. Five boats were boarded and two citations were issued. One of the boats they boarded had been issued three previous citations, one for fishing within our 200 mile limit. That boat is still out there fishing. What are the boats that were issued citations yesterday doing today? Are they in our port? Is the skipper being charged? Is the cargo being seized? Is the boat being seized? No. They were issued warning citations and they are still fishing and will continue to fish. It goes on and on.

Why the hoopla? You know, Mr. Speaker, I know and everybody else knows that it is only to draw attention to the fact that they are doing something. No, we did not do a thing that we have not done in the past, except that we are trying to make a story out of a non-story.

The same thing relates to this bill. For 10 years people have been pushing for stronger regulations in relation to pollution at sea. Year after year environmentalists in my province and the media have done some tremendous stories on wildlife, sea birds in particular, that are covered in oil, get to shore and die on the beaches because of pollution. We have seen some major disasters because ships completely and utterly ignore other people, other countries and just dump their bilge water and excess fuel at sea, and could not care less. We say that the deterrents are not there and the fines are not great enough.

The existing legislation we have is the Species at Risk Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, but let us look at the Canada Shipping Act. Under the Canada Shipping Act it states:

Any person or ship that discharges a pollutant in contravention of any regulation made under section 656

(a) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable

(i) in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding two hundred and fifty thousand dollars...

(i) in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding one million dollars, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both...

In reality, there are already fines, not under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, but under the Canada Shipping Act where those vessels can be charged fines anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million. Therefore, already in legislation we have exactly what the government is trying to bring in today to tell us it is going to bring in a strong enforcement mechanism.

There are two things. First, if the fine happened to be $200,000, how many examples have we had in the past where ships have been charged the maximum? It is not the amount of fine that counts if the courts are not going to impose the maximum fine.

We can all go back to a story that is thoroughly documented. CBC did a tremendous exposé of a boat called Tecam Sea which was charged with pollution in our waters. We had satellite tracking. We had over flights and clear cut pictures of the oil coming out of the boat. We had a foolproof case against that boat. The documentation was a mile high. The case was taken to court but, before it ever entered the chambers, on the steps of the courthouse, the day the case was supposed to start, the case was dropped. Why was it dropped? It was dropped because of an internal racket between the federal Department of the Environment and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Games were being played with internal fighting that led to a disagreement about a case where everyone, the officials and the legal people involved, all said that it was a foolproof case.

If we are not going to accept in court, satellite surveillance or the surveillance that we get from our provincial airlines that do such a great job out there, if we are not going to accept that kind of evidence when we are looking at the actual oil coming from the actual ship, it does not matter what size of fine we impose, whether we charge them $1 or $100 million because they will not be brought to court anyway, and if they are, the cases will be thrown out if what our own government people are saying is true.

The problem is not with the fine. The problem is not with the legal people who are there to prosecute. The problem is with the government on the other side of the House. The ministers, who are at the political end of it, do not have the intestinal fortitude to do what has to be done.

This is a sham, introducing a bill a week before an election call when the government knows that to get it through the House, to get it through the other place and to get it back here, there is not any time. It ain't gonna happen.

It is like the bills we saw last week dealing with aboriginal issues and the issue of driving while on drugs. The government can introduce them and go around the country and say that it is bringing in legislation but where has the government been for the last 10 years? The legislation before us should have been introduced sooner or, better still, the legislation that we have on our books should be enforced and we would not have this problem that we have in front of us today.

It is another day and another saga of the election preparation act which is what we should be calling this rather than the migratory bird act or the Canada Shipping Act.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, our colleagues the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Natural Resources and several colleagues on both sides of the House have spoken about the compelling reason to take swift action to protect our marine wildlife from oil pollution.

The intent is to integrate special enforcement and prosecution powers into two central pieces of environmental legislation so that we do not become a safe haven for illegal dumping of oily waste by the few in the shipping industry who have no environmental conscience.

What is so disturbing about this yearly winter tragedy is that the loss of 300,000 seabirds may only be the tip of the problem. Large as that number is, these are only the numbers we can verify off the coast of southeastern Newfoundland. We do know that there are birds oiled at sea in other parts of the Atlantic and indeed the Pacific coastlines. This means it is probable that the actual toll is tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands more than the recorded number.

These are not mere accidents. They are deliberate acts by a few individuals. We have to take note that this is not a new problem. It has gone on for many years. Some ship officials may just figure it is cheaper to break the law than to obey it. They figure that it is a cost of doing business for them.

There is a different cost, which I should address. While some of the species of seabirds affected by this problem are not those whose numbers are in danger, we also must take into account that deaths of this magnitude will begin to take a toll on the viability of these species. We certainly do not want to be adding murres and puffins to the list of species at risk.

Even more important, if the oil that enters our ocean waters has this kind of impact on seabirds, what is it doing to the fish, the shellfish and the marine mammals as well as the plankton and plant life which sustain all forms of ocean creatures in the ecosystem?

To take this one step further, we must acknowledge that there is an even greater impact than the death of 300,000 seabirds, sad as that is: namely, the serious impact on our continuing efforts to conserve biodiversity.

We are committed to conserving biodiversity not only because of international conventions that we have ratified, but because of our own agreements within Canada.

By making these commitments, we are confirming our obligation to sustain every type of living species. Ultimately, we have no choice because sustaining every form of life means we are also sustaining our own lives as human beings.

That is why—and also to take quick and definitive measures—we must adequately increase the penalties to deter the marine transportation industry from violating the law and inappropriately dumping their oil sludge.

I urge support of this legislation that amends, clarifies and reinforces the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. As we have heard, these are not new policy instruments. I would like to mention a few benefits of these changes.

By amending existing legislation--and this is proven and effective legislation--we are able to move early and decisively. We could see benefits as early as next winter. We are taking measures that will ensure enforcement and judicial powers that get results.

For instance, we need to make sure that captains and ships' officers are responsible for acts of pollution from their ships. We know that often ships' operators have mandated ships' officers to pollute our waters either intentionally or through failing to provide proper equipment or training. We know also that we must mandate specific enforcement measures such as the redirection of ships in certain cases.

As well, we will be able to prohibit falsification of records and harmonize our approach with that of the United States. This is especially important. Not only do we need to support the approach taken by our neighbour to the south with whom we share these ocean waters, but we also need to make sure that those who contemplate breaking the law do not think it is better to do so in Canada, where penalties are less stringent or where they are less likely to be caught. We will remove any notion that Canada is any form of safe haven.

Further, we will be able to make an investment in the science and technology we need to move even further ahead. We do not need any new invention. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. The technology already exists. We can see oil slicks behind ships that are breaking the law by using satellite and aircraft-borne technologies.

With some further refinements, we can use that existing technology to even better advantage. We can look harder for violators of the law by increasing surveillance. We will partner with the Canadian Space Agency and use Radarsat technology as our eye in the sky.

Anyone who has watched puffins floating on the waves off the coast of Newfoundland, seen graceful seagulls soaring over whitecaps, or heard the cry of murres knows that the disappearance of these birds would not only reduce biodiversity in Canada, but would diminish us all.

It is human beings who cause this annual disaster of 300,000 birds fighting desperately for their lives, because of the tiny hydrocarbon particles that penetrate their natural defences. And it is human beings who must do what is necessary to put an end to this disaster.

To paraphrase a famous saying, every death diminishes us all.

Our increasing knowledge of biodiversity makes us increasingly conscious of the serious impacts of human activity on living species. This bill is a significant step forward for the protection of our biodiversity. I urge all colleagues, regardless of party, to support it strongly and adopt it.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.


Sarmite Bulte Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to rise today and participate in this debate on the second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development of Bill C-34, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1999.

Our biologists have told us about the hopeless struggle by over 300,000 seabirds every winter who die because oil waste is illegally discharged from some ships off the coast of Newfoundland. They have seen this struggle first-hand as the natural defences of the birds are worn away by spots of oil and by the winter cold of the Atlantic as it seeps through their feathers.

What we also have to assume is that these murres, dovekies, gulls and puffins are not the only forms of marine life that are affected by the practices of these few individuals on board ships. The oily waste that goes into the ocean also washes up on our beaches. It pollutes the habitat of fish and marine mammals such as seals and also whales. The deaths of seabirds are dramatic, but there are other costs to biodiversity.

We also must assume that the same kinds of problems occur on the west coast, where shipping and marine life often collide.

Through international conventions and agreements and through domestic laws, we have stated repeatedly that Canada is committed as a nation to the conservation of nature.

We must address the yearly deaths of hundreds of thousands of seabirds within that context and we must meet our commitments.

We should be proud of the fine tradition we have forged, through long hours of hard work and much study, in the area of environmental legislation. We have good laws. I support the bill before us, which amends these already effective pieces of legislation so that we can take dramatic and swift action to help these birds and other forms of marine wildlife. In fact, I see little need for prolonged debate here.

These are important amendments. They will bring quick results, and we are not only addressing the deaths of seabirds but our obligations in conserving biodiversity. By taking action, we will know that we acted and a polluter did not go free. By taking action through these strong pieces of environmental legislation, we can say we are living up to our commitments.

We have said we would protect the environment. We have said we would protect species. But if so many seabirds die every year, their viability as a species could be threatened.

With this simple approach we will know we did something to prevent some of our most unique marine life from becoming at risk. Put this way, we already have no choice. We are obliged and we should be willing to meet that obligation.

I have concentrated my remarks on the situation on our east coast, but we also know that there must be similar problems off our Pacific and Arctic coasts.

Not only does oil in the water kill seabirds, it affects plant life, marine mammals and fish. In essence, it affects us all.

Yet here is our opportunity to make a difference. I ask all members to seize this opportunity and help us see results as soon as this coming winter with fewer deaths of birds oiled at sea.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.


Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate for a few moments in the debate on the bill before the House.

When those of us from eastern Ontario think of migratory birds, the first ones that come to mind are the Canada geese. We see these beautiful birds every spring. They fly great distances toward the far north, probably to the tip—or almost—of Ungava Bay. They spend the summer there and come back in the fall with their offspring, returning south. We marvel at the sight of such splendid birds. We wonder how they are able to tell which direction is north and find their way back to the same location as the year before.

Of course, these large birds also cause problems for some of our farmers, and we know that. Environment Canada is working with the farmers on this. This is still not enough for me as an MP. Nonetheless, the department is making an effort to get rid of them. By that I do not mean kill them. Efforts are being made to drive them out in order to try to preserve the crops that are being damaged.

Despite this drawback, the fact remains that we want to protect these magnificent large birds that fly north. I have mentioned only this species, but there is also the snow goose. We could also talk about all the other birds, especially those along the coasts that have similar migrations. Some of the migrations are even longer because some of these birds go to the very south of South America and come back to Canada's north. That is an unbelievable distance. Anyone who has travelled such a distance, even by plane, can only marvel at the fact that a bird makes this trip twice a year.

Canada and the United States are working together to protect these species. We can be proud of that. We can also be proud of the personal determination of the hon. Minister of the Environment, who works tirelessly on government issues. I was a minister in the previous cabinet for a number of years. The current minister had the same portfolio back then. I had the opportunity to see him at work on these issues at the cabinet table. Without revealing any ministerial secrets, I can say that he is incredibly committed. No one is more dedicated to the environmental cause than the minister.

We can be proud of him and of the commitments made by Canada with other countries of the world. For example, we were the first to sign the Convention on Biological Diversity. We have a tradition that goes back almost a century, in cooperation with the United States, as regards the protection of migratory birds.

We contributed in a significant way, in cooperation with other countries, to the establishment of protected areas, through programs such as the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Canada has been a leader in this area.

Our laws and our international initiatives have served us well. That having been said, we still have a problem, which could even be termed a disaster or a tragedy. It occurs along our shores every winter, regrettably.

As a result of this tragedy that occurs every winter, we are keenly aware of the need to readjust certain legislation, to change our focus one might say, as far as our environmental legislation, of which we are justly proud, is concerned.

As other members have pointed out, some 300,000 birds die every winter because of something humans have done. Their plight is the result of oil spills from certain ships that ply our coasts.

Consequently, there is no question in anyone's mind, in this connection at least, of changing our policy or anything of the like. It is merely a matter of beefing up the commitment that is already in place, in order to prevent disasters from happening because of irresponsible human behaviour.

It is, of course, already illegal to pollute Canadian waters, and it has been for a long time. What is being proposed here is to strengthen the tools available to the government, in order to make our approach to the problems of chronic oil pollution more effective.

This measure is not focused on Ottawa. It is a plea from people who walk or work on the beaches of the east coast, from witnesses and from people who love the ocean view and the rich marine life that is found just off the shores of our coasts. This marine life is such an important part of our Canadian identity that it is found, as we all know, in our art, on our currency and, of course, in our souls. It is an integral part of who we are.

These people support the measures proposed by our government today. I hope that, at the end of today's debate, we can proceed quickly, so that this bill can make a lot of ground in the coming days.

Who supports this approach? On the one hand, we have provincial public servants, members of the House of Commons—perhaps unanimously, but we will see later on today—and, I hope, those who sit in the other place. Perhaps they too will want to pass this bill very quickly next week, if we can send it to them today. The broad support for this initiative includes environmental groups, fishermen in coastal communities, citizens and the media.

I must add that the debate in this House has so far been very constructive and all political parties deserve credit for that. We have a rather wide range of interested parties, and even the term “rather large” seems hardly all-encompassing enough. Such a wide measure of support cannot go unnoticed.

We now are in a position to actually do something about the support which has been voiced and the calls for action from the many stakeholders. As for myself, it is with pleasure that I support the bill and urge my colleagues to do likewise later this day.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

1 p.m.


Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill. We see it as a very worthwhile piece of legislation.

It is very difficult to speak against a bill that is designed to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, but speaks to the much larger issue of environmental protection. I would point out that it is one of the few bills introduced by the government specifically designed to protect the environment.

There have been calls from across the country for the government to be proactive and bold in its approach to environmental protection. We saw the government and the committee on the environment wrestle with the species at risk legislation. I think most people would admit that what came out of that process was not very satisfactory.

As I said, it is very difficult to speak against a bill that, if ever sworn into law, would protect the environment in any aspect. My reason for saying this and my introductory point is that I do not believe the bill will see the light of day beyond the opportunity to give it a full debate during second reading. It is a bit of a cynical move. My colleague from Newfoundland pointed out that it would be very difficult to see the bill go though the very steps of the legislative process and actually get royal assent if we are literally four or five sitting days away from a federal election.

It would appear that the Liberal government wants it put on the record that it cares about environmental issues. Here it is introducing legislation in order to dissuade its critics or to answer its critics who can quite rightly say the government never introduces environmental legislation. There is nothing on the Liberals' permanent record to indicate that they give a hoot about green issues.

The only environmental legislation that has passed in the House that has been bold has been put forward as private members' business by a number of opposition parties. They are usually the ones to use private members' bills. I should point out that in the 37th Parliament there were minor initiatives passed regarding environmental issues.

A tax deduction for transit passes, for instance, was an initiative put forward by my colleague in the NDP in the interests of trying to get people out of their cars and into public transit. Employers who gave transit passes to their employees could deduct that as they can deduct salaries and wages. That was tangible environmental legislation.

The other one was an environmental initiative that I put forward on the energy retrofitting of publicly owned buildings. That initiative actually did pass in the House of Commons. However, we have not seen issues of substance coming from the government.

I am not surprised that the sensitive issue of marine waters and ship source pollution has not been a top of mind issue for the Liberal government. I should point out that the current Prime Minister's company, when he still owned Canada Steamship Lines, was given the largest fine in Canadian history for ship source pollution. One of his ships, in polluting the Halifax harbour, was given the largest penalty in Canadian history, not something to which a sitting politician, much less a Prime Minister, would want to draw attention.

As an aside, on the same subject I should point out that at that time Canadian tax law was such that the fine was tax deductible. It is a shameful thing to have to point out. That has finally been remedied after constant pressure, five years of pressure from the NDP benches that we should never reward bad behaviour by allowing companies or individuals to write off penalties and fines imposed by law as a tax deductible expense. We think that is just plain bad public policy.

Finally the Liberal government in the most recent budget has amended the Income Tax Act so that any penalty or fine imposed by law is no longer to be considered a tax deductible expense. I suppose that is something to celebrate.

We come at this issue of ship source pollution, the discharge of oily bilge waste from passing ships, by way of its effect on sea birds and other sea animals as well, but specifically, the bill concentrates on the effect on migratory birds. As such, it seeks to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, and in a subsequent way the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

It is true that our current environmental legislation does not address this issue very specifically or to anyone's great satisfaction. Interpretation of the various pieces of legislation left officials with few choices to deal with the problem effectively, even though it is a very visible problem to anyone who lives along our largest coastline, which is the largest coastline of any country in the world. They are well aware of the impact of the noxious habit of discharging bilge waters, especially close to harbours and settled areas, but that is not the point. The fact is that it has had a huge effect on the migratory bird population and certainly warrants being addressed here.

There have been numerous appeals from parliamentarians representing coastal communities to the federal government to deal with this chronic oil pollution problem. We heard the very passionate representations from my colleague from Newfoundland earlier who knows more about this issue than I ever will, coming from the prairie provinces, but that does not mean that the interest is limited to those who live in coastal communities.

Environmental groups have tried to bring this issue to the federal government's attention without bearing fruit until these twilight hours of this Parliament. It is no secret that we are in the final days, the final dwindling hours, of debate in this Parliament. We will all be very surprised if there is one more week of sitting within the 37th Parliament, and this is only the first hours of debate at second reading on the bill. There are many other pieces of legislation that are going to compete for those few hours that are left. I do not have any confidence that Bill C-34, dealing with migratory birds, will ever see the light of day.

As much as I appreciate that the hon. Minister of the Environment has finally convinced cabinet to introduce this type of legislation, it is not jaded or cynical to assume that it was done purely for the optics of leading into the federal election campaign. It really is not fooling anybody.

Environmental issues as they stand are ranked top of mind with most Canadians. It is even more top of mind when they see the prices at the pump. People are thinking about the environment and pollution issues more than usual lately, as they are reminded of the cost of burning fossil fuels compared with the environmental degradation that fossil fuels bring.

In this particular case, with the discharge of noxious substances from bilge water, this is a manageable problem that we can in fact deal with and bring satisfaction to, especially within our own 200 mile exclusive economic zone. As a nation we are calling for better enforcement of Canadian rights within that 200 mile exclusive economic zone. This is one aspect that we could police with far more vigour, with legislation crafted specifically for that reason.

Birds and oil at sea is an issue that brings emotion to most Canadians who have witnessed this problem. We will support Bill C-34, but we regret that we will probably not get the opportunity to vote it into legislation, given the fact that we are running out of time. If the government were sincere about introducing legislation of this nature, it should have done so months ago when it had some prospect of actually being voted into legislation.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.



Mauril Bélanger Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have listened attentively and carefully to the member from Winnipeg Centre and his ascribing motives to the government on this. I would like to prove him wrong by stating that if the House were to give its unanimous consent, the government would be prepared to see this bill carried at all stages and referred to the Senate as early as today. If we could obtain that, we could report back to the House before 1:30 today.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I need some guidance, so I will turn again to the Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. He is at this time not requesting unanimous consent?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Correct, Mr. Speaker. Because we have a tradition of seeking and speaking with the House leaders of all parties, I will endeavour now to seek that unanimous consent. If we obtain it, I will report back to the House before the end of government business today.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, could the member assure us that in so doing and by referring it to the Senate, that it would go through the Senate and we could get it back here to deal with it before at least the end of next week or maybe earlier than that? To pass it through here is only a charade if we know it will not go through the other place.

Could he assure us that by letting it go through here now quickly, which we will certainly agree to do, that this will become legislation.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I wonder if I can make a suggestion. I can understand that there are some very real questions to be asked and to be answered, but in a relatively tight timeframe in over the next 15 minutes. The Chair would prefer if these discussions, questions or answers, which are legitimate, would occur outside behind the curtains in the usual fashion. Then, if necessary, the Chair will entertain whatever motions might be put either by the government or by members of the opposition.

Therefore, I would like to now go back to debate on Bill C-34. Are there any further speakers?

Is the House ready for the question?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
Government Orders

1:10 p.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, 1994
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to and bill referred to a committee)

The House resumed from May 5 consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, an act to provide for real property taxation powers of first nations, to create a First Nations Tax Commission, First Nations Financial Management Board, First Nations Finance Authority and First Nations Statistical Institute and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

May 7th, 2004 / 1:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

As I understand it, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre has approximately four minutes left on Bill C-23.