Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-25, an act governing the operation of remote sensing space systems.
I want it known from the outset that we will vote against this bill. In fact, a number of problems that we had raised were not addressed in committee. And yet, the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île and I did propose a number of amendments. The NDP also tried to clarify the bill, but the Conservatives and the Liberals were indifferent and treated us to their usual uncompromising attitude that we have grown accustomed to over the past 10 years.
Still, consideration of legislation on remote sensing is very thrilling. It gives every member of the committee a chance to learn a great deal about it. We also saw that since this is a relatively new field, there were a great deal of questions that government officials had not asked themselves. Fortunately, the committee raised these questions. Too bad it did not get any response.
It probably would have been better to postpone the debate on Bill C-25 and to continue the work of the committee in order to ensure that this legislation, made necessary by the fact that the Canadian Space Agency was relieved from one of the responsibilities it had in managing RADARSAT-1, truly responded to the objectives set out in the summary. I will read the summary, since those watching us need to know what we are talking about.
This enactment regulates remote sensing space systems to ensure that their operation is neither injurious to national security, to the defence of Canada, to the safety of Canadian Forces or to Canada’s conduct of international relations nor inconsistent with Canada’s international obligations.
In order to accomplish this, the enactment establishes a licensing regime for remote sensing space systems and provides for restrictions on the distribution of data gathered by means of them. In addition, the enactment gives special powers to the Government of Canada concerning priority access to remote sensing services and the interruption of such services.
That is the aim of this bill. As I mentioned, we support this aim. However, if the Canadian Space Agency had retained responsibility for managing and operating RADARSAT-2, this bill would not be necessary. Instead, the Liberal government decided, in this area, to establish a public-private partnership—Quebec knows that such partnerships are rarely successful either in reality or in the public eye—between the Canadian Space Agency and MacDonald Dettwiler, a Canadian company.
If RADARSAT-1 had been left as it is, that is, having this remote sensing space system under public management, this bill would have been moot. However, we are being presented with a fait accompli, this public-private partnership. So we must establish a framework for this private enterprise, which will be responsible for managing a remote sensing space satellite.
Even if we make a law that every operator of this kind of technology must obtain a licence, the fact is that Bill C-25 seeks to provide a framework solely for the activities of one private company.
I want to mention that I find it troubling, to say the least, that one of the sponsors of this bill, the Minister of Industry, served on the board of this private company in 2000. A number of responsibilities set out in the bill will need to be clarified.
This bill is a first in Canada. As I said, it was made necessary due to a decision taken by the government, under former minister John Manley, to transfer RADARSAT-2 to a private company.
As I recall, and as the leader of the NDP said earlier, RADARSAT-2 was designed and built by the Canadian Space Agency, which is located in Saint Hubert, at a cost of $430 million. In fact, I think that the costs have increased somewhat since then. However, the Canadian company, MacDonald Dettwiler invested only $92 million. It has also committed to paying the satellite's operating costs. But any private company operating this satellite will want to sell the images it takes and make a profit. It will do so at the expense of taxpayers who paid for the system's construction.
In my opinion, this is the first problem in the whole debate, which is not as much focussed on Bill C-25 as on the government's past decision to shed responsibility for administration of RADARSAT-2.
One can, of course, wonder how appropriate it is, from the point of view of governance, to use the taxpayers' money to permit a private company to sell its remote sensing images. No one is questioning the appropriateness of having such satellites. Hon. members will recall that RADARSAT-1 scans the Earth's surface with advanced synthetic aperture radar. Unlike optical systems, this system makes imaging possible day and night, whether the atmosphere is clear, cloudy or foggy. As a result, these satellites are extremely useful for monitoring natural disasters.
As I said in my question to the parliamentary secretary, this also allows for natural resource management. It is, for example, very difficult to assess changes in a forest with the naked eye. With satellite images, however, it is possible to take inventory of the forests, as well as waterways and a number of other things. It is, of course, very useful for both meteorology and cartography.
The novelty with RADARSAT-2 is the markedly higher resolution than was available with RADARSAT-1, varying between two and three metres. This is, of course, where the entire problem lies with the use private interests will make of these ultra high resolution images. I recall that MacDonald Dettwiler, the private company that will be administering this, will sell these images to private interests as well as to foreign interests.
The Americans are worried about the possibility that images obtained by RADARSAT-2 and sold by this private company could have military repercussions. A treaty, to which we could not get access, was signed with the United States in 2000. We therefore share the concerns of the Polaris Institute as to its contents. Do the Americans have some right to veto the sale and use of the images that will be taken?
We know that U.S. law forbids selling images to certain countries. We can understand that. However, will we let the U.S. dictate to Canada how the images should be sold? We would have liked to have seen that treaty. We were told that it does not contain anything that can be cause for concern but I am not ready to blindly accept the government's word. We have concerns. The bill should reflect the complete independence of Canada in matters of foreign affairs but that is not the case.
In addition, there are no provisions in case MacDonald Dettwiler, a private company, should change hands as happened a few months or a few years ago. I think it then became an American company. What would happen if it changed hands? Would its licence be cancelled? Can you imagine a satellite like RADARSAT-2, built with public funds by the Canadian Space Agency, being operated by a foreign private company? It is beyond comprehension that the Canadian government did not find it necessary to include in the bill dispositions ensuring that the company operating RADARSAT-2 remains in Canadian hands. We see it as sheer irresponsibility.
There is another problem which I alluded to earlier in my question to the parliamentary secretary and it is the fact that the legislation does not specify how priority of access to the images will be determined.
The prioritization is not framed in the operating criteria previously used with RADARSAT-2. Members will recall that these criteria ensured priority access to relevant departments—Environment, Natural Resources, Fisheries and Oceans—the provinces and the scientific community.
Now, there is no such assurance. At least, there is no mention in the bill of priority access for the departments, federal or Quebec, which are the largest users of remote sensing data, or for the scientific community.
Previously, with RADARSAT-1, the Canadian Space Agency was the one setting and managing priorities. Now, the management of the satellite will be in the hands of a private company, as I said earlier. This private company might establish its priorities based on the primary objective of private companies: profit. And this primary objective may well be contrary to the interest of common good and Canadian and Quebec interests where the provinces are concerned. So, one would have expected Bill C-25 to clearly provide an order of priority for access to the images, but it does not.
As I said, while several questions remain unanswered, officials have been working on this bill for five years already. I am not criticizing them. The fact is that, clearly, there has been a lack of transparency. The bill was introduced suddenly. There was, on the part of the government and the parliamentary secretary, a feeling of urgency to rush this bill through the various stages of consideration at committee and in Parliament.
As I indicated, the bill was put together so quickly that, when my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île contacted Ferdinand Beaulne, director of the large remote sensing research centre in Canada, therefore someone who is really closely involved with the whole remote sensing file, he was not even aware of the existence of Bill C-25. This means that he had never been consulted by officials or the government on the drafting of Bill C-25.
On the other hand, Mr. Giroux, who is the director of external relations at the Canadian Space Agency, has told us several times that MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates and its subsidiary RADARSAT International Inc., together the Agency's private partner in the RADARSAT-2 program, was consulted extensively during the development of the bill before us. This is somewhat problematic since, as I mentioned to you, the specific purpose of Bill C-25 is to provide a framework for the activities of a single company, namely MacDonald Dettwiler, the only company consulted. In fact, potential subcontractors or clients of MacDonald Dettwiler appeared before the committee to share their concerns about their interests not being taken into account in the industry's development. As far as I can see, everyone in the House agrees that this industry is extremely promising for Canada and Quebec.
Therefore, my party believes that we should have taken a bit more time to involve more people in the process and to have a strong bill.
I mentioned a short while ago in my question that provinces are considered as simple clients and do not have priority access, as was the case before, when they had nearly free access. I want to talk some more about this, since it is the third problem element. The provinces, who are the main buyers of remote sensing images, had even invested in RADARSAT-1. As I mentioned earlier, remote sensing is linked to numerous provincial jurisdictions, such as natural resources, agriculture and the environment. In fact, you, Mr. Speaker, are just as aware of this reality as I am.
As I said, the bill does not explicitly mention an agreement with the provinces, and so we believe it is necessary to change this through an amendment. I think this is a major deficiency in Bill C-25.
There is one other aspect I believe is important, namely, the use that some private-sector or government clients may make of RADARSAT-2 and its remote sensing images. One would have expected the government to comply with the summary, where it is said that remote sensing space systems are regulated “to ensure that their operation is neither injurious to national security, to the defence of Canada, to the safety of Canadian Forces—”. One would have expected a control mechanism on the export of those remote sensing data, just as there still are on exports of products of a military nature in Canada.
In fact, there are guidelines. There is a policy to control exports of military goods and technology to countries we want banned from receiving such exports. I have introduced an amendment which, I thought, simply reflected common sense, that is to say that we make sure that countries that are a threat in terms of Canadian military exports are also covered in the area of remote sensing.
As an example, members know that Canada rigorously controls exports of military goods and technology to countries that constitute a threat to itself and its allies; to those that are involved in a conflict or that might be shortly; to those that have had sanctions imposed by the Security Council of the United Nations; to those where human rights are seriously and repeatedly violated by the government, unless it can be demonstrated that the population is under no reasonable risk.
If it is good for the export of military goods and services, it should also have been good for remote sensing images which the government feels must be covered by Bill C-25.
I admit that I found this very hard to understand. As I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, I felt that this issue was brushed aside because the government, for reasons that are unknown to me, even though I have a pretty good idea, needs to have Bill C-25 passed as quickly as possible. I think it has to do with the agreement with the United States whereby Canada made the commitment to create a framework for this private corporation, and I am very concerned about that.
Regarding the archiving of data, which will be dealt with in the regulations, we know that this type of high resolution remote sensing can be an invasion of privacy and can be used to compromise the freedom of our fellow citizens. This is why we would have preferred that provisions dealing with the archiving of data be included in the bill itself. The government kept exclusive control over this area by putting it in the regulations. Several experts, including a legal expert and a scientist specialized in Earth observation, pointed out the importance of such archiving of data when they came before the committee.
In the case of the environment and the climate, it is extremely important that all the data be kept year after year. What will that private company do with the images? It will probably consider that the management of these data will cost too much. Consequently, after two years, it will get rid of a whole series of extremely important images.
For example, we were told that in order to be able to measure the warming of the planet or problems concerning the ozone layer, researchers must be able to go back in time to compare series of data. Of course, that will cost money, as I have already said, but a private commercial operator should be required to inform National Archives of his intention to get rid of a number of images. There are no provisions in the legislation in that regard.
In conclusion, we deplore the fact that the Canadian Space Agency has been partly stripped of the management of RADARSAT-2. We believe that the Canadian Space Agency must play an important role. Consequently, because there are no provisions in the bill establishing priority criteria, because nothing in the bill ensures that RADARSAT-2 will not be sold to foreign interests, because there was a lack of transparency at the drafting and consideration stages, because the interests of provinces, particularly Quebec, are not protected, because scientific advances are put at risk by Bill C-25, because there are no consultations with the provinces and the departments involved, as I said in my introduction, the Bloc Quebecois will vote against Bill C-25.