Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak on Bill C-3 at third reading.
I cannot begin my speech without referring to some of the comments just made. With regard to the 1995 mistake—transferring responsibility from the Department of Transport to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans—I get the feeling that, 10 years later, they are going to correct the first mistake by making another one.
Here is the second mistake. Upon consideration, Bill C-3, obviously, is only an administrative change. The Canadian Coast Guard's problem is not administrative in nature, but rather due to a lack of consistency and funding. This is a major problem—I will have the opportunity to talk about this in detail during my speech—given its numerous responsibilities.
I do not get the feeling today that the government is behaving responsibly by introducing this purely superficial and administrative change. There is no attempt to get to the bottom of things and I will talk about this for the next few minutes.
I just want to remind the House why we think that this bill at third reading, in the end, presents no new solutions instead of doing what needs to be done. We have looked at documents published by the Library of Parliament, which simply say that the administrative bill clarifies the December 2003 transfer of powers for marine safety from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to the Department of Transport. It consolidates policy responsibility for all aspects of marine safety in Transport Canada. It improves the responsiveness, coherence and consistency of the marine regulatory framework in Canada. It enhances service delivery on marine matters for all stakeholders. It ensures that the roles and responsibilities of the government remain the same in whatever department they are found. It preserves the authorities of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to carry out the operational role assigned to it. It ensures that the powers, duties and functions transferred from DFO to Transport Canada are unambiguous, in order to prevent disputes and it preserves the logic and coherence of the affected statutes.
Examining each of these elements or parameters, I can see, on the face of them, that we cannot support the bill as presented. It is purely and simply an administrative change that will do nothing to correct the situation.
The situation is as follows. In September 2000, the Canadian Shipowners Association wrote the following about the Coast Guard:
The Canadian Coast Guard provides a series of services which impact on the commercial fleet. The maintenance of aids to navigation, icebreaking services and dredging are all services utilized to some extent by CSA members. Faced with budget reductions, the Coast Guard has begun to introduce new charges for the delivery of all these services.
This has been going on for the past several years. The government has been irresponsible and has done absolutely nothing about the problem of charges to the shipping industry.
The Coast Guard began introducing new charges. The passage continues:
These new costs taken together amount to substantial new operating costs at a time when other transportation services have been able to drastically reduce costs through regulatory reforms and closure of facilities.
This refers to a situation that arose in 2000. As you will see, the situation persists, unfortunately.
New Coast Guard service fees are a national issue effecting users across the country. Together with western and Atlantic marine transportation industry representatives, the CSA participated in the National Marine and Industrial Coalition to provide a common approach to negotiations with the government.
The report continues:
In 1998, consultations were held on the Coast Guard's plans for icebreaking fees. A report of the Marine Advisory Board (MAB) recommended a uniform transit fee with a cap on the maximum number of chargeable transits—. The Coalition responded with a modified proposal. Following a series of meetings with Minister David Anderson and his officials, the Minister agreed to reduce the Coast Guard's target revenue for icebreaking by half. In addition, the Minister agreed to freeze charges at this level fort hree years—
The three-year freeze on fees also applies to charges for aids to navigation. CSA members have argued that the industry no longer requires all the services being offered by the Coast Guard, that efforts to reduce operation costs must increase and that these new costs will negatively impact industry competitiveness.
The Coast Guard re-introduced the dredging services fee in 1998 for one year. Originallyintroduced as a “interim fee” —
This is the Liberal government's usual tactic: interim fees, interim measures. We have heard more than enough of them in connection with employment insurance.
— for commercial ships in the St. Lawrence river in 1997, the fee was extended to September 1, 1999. The government also established an Advisory Committee to review this matter.
One might well call this a ghost committee. This was written back in 2000.
Now I will read an excerpt from Maritime Magazine , a shipping magazine. In its winter 2005 issue, editor Pierre Terrien updates the situation. This is in fact the heart of the problem and where Bill C-3 is needed. The bill number is of no importance, but what is important is some real responsibility with respect to the Coast Guard.
According to Mr. Terrien, the debate on Coast Guard cost recovery, already underway a number of years ago, has used up a lot of newspaper ink and a lot of energy. Even the Commissioner of the Coast Guard is opposed to this accursed federal policy—not my words, they are used in the article—but the only good thing about it is that it will bring together the various bodies concerned with defending and promoting shipping. It has also led to the creation of several coalitions that have brought together around the same table stakeholders from the industrial and manufacturing sectors as well as the usual spokespersons for the shipping sector.
This goes to show that there can be several sides—two and sometimes three—to an argument.
For the marine community, this pulling together of the forces in the field has proven to be the most appropriate change of the past decade, as it gave more consistency to its image and voice.
Nevertheless, this is an “accursed” policy. It is unfortunate to have to use such language, but we can clearly see that, as the years go by, this issue is definitely not progressing, far from it. It is not with the $276 million over five years recently announced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada that we can expect everything to be resolved.
Even Canadian Coast Guard Commissioner Adams acknowledged that an investment of $140 million per year would be required to properly upgrade the Coast Guard. We are not talking about luxuries here. We are not talking about ships that would look like luxury liners. We are talking about major investments, to the tune of $140 million per year, just to achieve at a decent level.
What was announced today for the Coast Guard is interesting. It may sound like a lot of money, but it is really $275 million over five years. Things being what they are, the dividing factor being a mathematical model that cannot be disproved, we realize that the amount being spent is very small in comparison with what is really needed. I think that, on this file, an administrative change will not successfully resolve the fundamental problem.
We are now at third reading. This bill amends four existing pieces of legislation, namely the Canada Shipping Act, the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act and the Oceans Act. The enactment transfers powers, duties and functions from the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to the Minister of Transport.
I will remind the hon. members that history shows what may be, at the end of the day, the Liberal approach. In 1995, the reverse happened: the powers, duties and functions of the Department of Transport were transferred to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
And now the transfer is happening again. There may well be disputes. The government must make sure that the powers, duties and functions of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans being transferred to the Department of Transport are clear so as to prevent disputes. Is that the case? I am not sure.
They are taking one step forward, one step back. They can pedal all they like, they are in neutral. In other words, they are marking time. Meanwhile, problems are piling up. In terms of not only marine safety but safety generally, it appears they are missing the boat. Because, with respect to needs—I repeat, because it is important to emphasize this—they announce a mere $275 million over five years, when the needs estimated by the Commissioner of the Coast Guard, Mr. Adams—I am willing to accept him as an expert in the field and someone who knows what is going on when he talks about the needs of Coast Guard services—amount to some $140 million per year.
As far as democracy is concerned, they are denying the existence of the parliamentary standing committee which issued a unanimous report on the Coast Guard a few years ago, in 2003. In the report, the committee recommends, among other things, the creation of an independent civilian federal agency. There are other recommendations, and I will read them.
I would like to say more about this unanimous report by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, whose members, I remind the House, come from all political parties. In the end, in introducing Bill C-3, which is purely administrative and cosmetic, the government is completely ignoring this report.
The committee recommends among its 18 recommendations:
That funding to the Coast Guard be increased.
The report does not call for a cosmetic increase. The amount of $275 million over five years may look enormous, but five years goes by quickly, and this is clearly insufficient to meet the real needs.
The committee also recommended:
That the Government of Canada, through the Canadian Coast Guard, guarantee stable, long-term A-base funding for the Office of Boating Safety at a level fully sufficient for it to meet its responsibilities.
That the Canadian Coast Guard be governed by a new Canadian Coast Guard Act that would set out the roles and responsibilities of the Coast Guard.
That the government establish the Canadian Coast Guard as the lead federal agency among the several federal departments involved in marine pollution prevention.
That the Coast Guard be given all the necessary resources and powers to conduct surveillance and collect evidence necessary for the effective prosecution of contraventions.
That, prior to any decision to de-staff lightstations, affected communities and stakeholders be consulted.
That a renewed Coast Guard be established as an independent civilian agency; that the government make an immediate commitment—
This was in 2003.
—that the Canadian Coast Guard receive an injection of capital funding to pay for fleet renewal, upgraded and modernized shore-based infrastructure and the implementation of new technology.
To some extent, this is the context in which we now find ourselves, at third reading. It is the second time that I have risen in the House to address this issue. But for a few exceptions, my comments are essentially the same today. Indeed, the Coast Guard issue requires more than mere cosmetic or administrative changes. It requires significant improvements that are adequate, relevant and that meet existing needs.
It is important to meet those needs because, as members know, we are surrounded by three oceans. I am more familiar with one of these oceans. Since I come from the riding of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine and represent it, I know the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of St. Lawrence well.
I can say that, for the past number of years, when people think about the Coast Guard, the question that comes to mind is: when will the next cut be made? This is more or less the context in which we find ourselves now.
With respect to marine services, specifically marine safety and people who might perhaps experience problems at sea and so forth, it does not appear that the Canadian Coast Guard can truly fulfill its mandate. I am not the only one saying so. The fishers, industry stakeholders and even the commissioner of the Coast Guard, the big boss, are saying so too.
There are not enough ships and the Coast Guard's real needs are not being met. That is why, in a last-ditch effort, we are asking the House to vote against this bill and ensure that the current Liberal minority government goes back and does its homework.
Turning its back on its responsibilities and completely ignoring the fact that the Coast Guard requires so much more makes no sense and would result in another scandal to add to the Liberal Party's collection. Ensuring that real resources are allocated and that there is a real consistency in terms of responsibilities is a matter of respect and dignity. This problem cannot truly be resolved by tossing it back and forth between Transport Canada and DFO.
In conclusion, I want to say that the people of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, the people who rely on the services of the Canadian Coast Guard, truly need real changes, not a superficial and administrative bill, to ensure that they have a Coast Guard able to protect them and improve on its services. For this reason, neither the marine industry nor the people and the fishers should have to pay the price. I hope too that they will not have to pay with their lives.