Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate.
At the outset, I would like to clarify the context of the debate once again. The proposal is quite broad, and the motion enables us to look at the issue from a broad perspective.
The committee is recommending that the government not apply marine service fees on Canadian commercial ships transiting to and from waters north of 60o based on the socio-economic conditions of the north consistent with the fee exemption established in 1997. This is the first recommendation. There are others, but the government seems to have forgotten or chosen to ignore them.
The second recommendation is this: that the exemption be applied immediately without any further delay and that the Canadian Coast Guard's cost recovery policy with respect to the north be subject to further review in the development of a national future approach to the marine services fees.
This enables us to consider the debate in its broader context. Canada is surrounded by three oceans and has very long coastlines. Documents I consulted said that Canada's coastline is 243,792 km long. That accounts for 25% of the world's coastline. This matter is therefore anything but minor.
The motion gives us an overall view of what is taking place at present. This is also an opportunity for me to mention that a Quebec organization, the St. Lawrence Economic Development Council, has already expressed its opinion on this file. Let me state some facts. The costs of the Coast Guard represent about $40 million in all. Part is for marine services fees—the subject of today’s motion—and part is for icebreaking fees. Generally speaking, $13 million goes to icebreaking and the other $27 million goes to marine services fees. This is one factor to be considered in our debate of the motion and it is why I am providing these illustrations.
The St. Lawrence Economic Development Council is interested in our discussion today. Moreover it has already had the opportunity to present its position in this regard many times. It did so quite recently, to the Canadian Coast Guard, in April 2006.
Some of the members of the St. Lawrence Economic Development Council—SODES—are the shipowners that serve isolated locations in the Arctic, our topic of discussion today. These shipowners have to pay marine services fees since their services involve trips between ports located south of the 60th parallel and ports located north of the 60th parallel.
These service fees inevitably have an impact on the cost of maritime transport, which in the end has to be assumed by the isolated communities that are resupplied by ship.
In this regard, SODES is in agreement with the Government of Nunavut, which says that we should not charge these service fees since the costs of transportation are already very high for serving Arctic locations. This is another factor to be considered in our debate of the motion.
Living in the Arctic is not necessarily easy on account of the climatic conditions. Unfortunately, when it comes time to resupply, the only way to operate is by air or by sea. A lot of these resupply goods arrive from the South, and that has some impact on the prices paid by the people who live in the Arctic.
“Marine services fees,” said SODES, the St. Lawrence Economic Development Council, “do not apply to ships sailing exclusively north of the 60th parallel”. That is actually the subject of one of the questions I had the chance to ask a few moments ago.
However, the supply of remote communities in the Arctic inevitably involves marine transport from ports located south of the 60th parallel from which the goods are shipped.
For this reason, the exemption from marine service fees in the Arctic should have initially included transport linking the Arctic with ports located in the south. It would have been the right thing to do because the principle that there are no fees north of the 60th parallel is already recognized, it is applied and there already is an exemption. However, it is not only goods from the north that are transported in the north; there are also goods that arrive from the south.
The fact of not applying service fees for marine transport between the north and south of the 60th parallel is a result of the desire not to impose additional economic costs on remote communities and to encourage a quality marine service at reasonable cost.
That brings me to the key element of the discussion we are having today. We will probably have an opportunity to return to this subject at another time. Today, I want to make it clear that I believe the Canadian Coast Guard should not become a collector of fees. There is a service to be rendered to communities, especially those in the Arctic, but the Coast Guard should concentrate on marine safety.
The Coast Guard does excellent work in that area. I recently had the opportunity to visit with members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary who were holding an exercise in Gaspé during the summer. It was a competition among members of the Auxiliary. In terms of marine safety, members of the Coast Guard already have a record of providing service to people in need in situations that are sometimes unfortunate and even tragic.
There is also another responsibility regarding the Arctic region, considering what is going on there because of climate change. There is a shift taking place. Things could change and it is possible that current traffic will increase. That also falls within the context of debate on the motion. So there is scope for a very broad examination of the situation.
In the case of ice breaking or marine service fees, I do not think that the Coast Guard should become a collector of fees or get in the way. Rather, it should devote its energies to helping marine companies engaging in cabotage. I am speaking about products that are shipped from the south to the north over a great distance and sometimes, under difficult conditions. The Coast Guard must not become simply a collector of fees. I do not believe that is its mandate.
If I am not mistaken, the overall budget of Fisheries and Oceans Canada is $1.4 billion a year. Marine service fees—in other words icebreaking charges—involve $40 million. The subject of the motion today involves only $100,000 or $200,000. We see what this debate is really all about and, by extension, what the government's systematic obstruction is about.
It seems totally natural to me to vote in favour of this type of motion. It was surprising to hear Conservative Party representatives in committee presenting arguments that did not fly. These arguments left us with the impression that this motion would cause a revolution.
It is not a question of revolution, it is a question of logic and fairness. It is as simple as that. This issue raises some relatively important questions: what is the role of the Canadian Coast Guard; what should the government's contribution be; and, how we can work with people from the shipping industry?
In my opinion, what would be useful in this file is for the government to act with more diligence.
The Liberals were very slow to take action. The problems with the icebreaking services and the fees have existed for some time for the shipping industry. There is still no long-term agreement. Year in and year out, the industry operates with something that was decided a number of years ago.
It would be interesting for the Conservative Party to simply rally around the opposition, which is in the majority, and support its position, which is also held by the majority. They have the right to change their minds. Today, in committee, they did not rally around the opposition. They do not seem to want to do so, but they are listening. Listening does not have to be something passive; it can be active. I invite them to change their minds, to change their decision and to rally around this position. It is simply a question of logic and fairness.