Mr. Speaker, what just happened proves that the current government is using the same tactics the former government did. They tried to gag the House on an extremely important issue, namely small craft harbours.
For years now, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, the entire industry and all the communities in our regions have been asking for significant investment in small craft harbours. The reason is simple: according to every study we have read, the infrastructure is currently in disrepair and in many cases is extremely dangerous. This is a matter of safety for all the fishers in the entire industry and of survival of some plants, as is the case in my riding. As far as the Mont-Louis West harbour is concerned, it is simply a question of a plant's survival. If ships can no longer dock in this harbour, if the 20 shrimpers or the other fishers can no longer dock in this harbour, the plant might have to close its doors because the fishers will have to go further west or further east.
In December 2001, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans adopted a comprehensive report and study on the small craft harbours situation. We learned then that a $400 million investment was absolutely needed just to repair and maintain the small craft harbours.
The previous government's response was to add $20 million a year to the budget for five years, which represents a $100 million investment in small craft harbours. We needed $400 million. Given the fact that the small craft harbours continue to deteriorate and given climate change and its impact on rundown harbours, the impact is even greater. Now we need roughly $500 million or $525 million just to repair the small craft harbours. I am not talking about the regular maintenance of small craft harbours. I am talking about 1,203 harbours, from coast to coast, whose entire infrastructure has to be repaired. This is a problem in the regions.
I would point out that I will share the time allotted me with the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, whose riding is affected even more than that of Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, which is affected even more than the riding of Manicouagan, which is affected even more than all of the other ridings in Quebec. It is true for the Magdalen Islands, it is true for the Gaspé, it is true for the North Shore and it is true for the lower North Shore. I personally saw it on the lower North Shore two years ago on a tour. People have to wait for high tide to dock.
Fishers find themselves in difficulty when they have to brave a storm, travel 30, 40 or 50 nautical miles before arriving at a port which is totally inaccessible because it has not been dredged or repaired. We are also aware how little has been invested in the Canadian Coast Guard for the protection of our ships. Over the years, we have come to realize that there was a big problem.
I have here a study done worldwide. It mentions many countries and what is done elsewhere. It mentions Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the Philippines. It refers to all these countries. If we look at what is going on in Canada we realize it is practically the only developed country in the world that does not look after its infrastructure. Small craft harbours in Iceland and Norway are in respectable repair. When repairs are required, they are done. It is a matter of safety.
I will add that the government had undertaken to divest itself of a number of harbours that were not particularly useful. For a community, a harbour is useful for more than just fishing. In most communities, these harbours have many uses. But they are not being maintained.
Here is a specific example. Those tempted to fish for cod with a line—and a licence—from a dock in Mont-Louis should think again. They would be risking their lives.
It is as simple as that. The harbour is in very bad condition. So a fence is put up and people are prevented from using the harbours in question because the government did not maintain them. We are not asking for a fortune. We just want to keep the $20 million budget, plus an additional $15 million a year for five years, to be able at least to repair the harbours and then invest appropriately in maintaining them. We are talking about approximately $70 million for the entire infrastructure all across the country, simply to maintain it. So this is extremely important, a major concern for our communities.
I also recall that the committee report adopted in 2001, which the previous government half carried out, was passed unanimously. The current government of Conservatives voted as unanimously as the Liberals, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party in the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to implement the recommendations of this report.
Today we see with this government a repeat of what happened under the Liberals. They tell us they are in favour of maintaining and repairing small craft harbours. However, they resort to various tactics to prevent us from speaking in the House, while saying they are in favour. There was absolutely nothing in this budget, nothing presented to us recently, to improve and maintain small craft harbours. Worse than less than nothing, they announced a cut of about $11 million a year in the budget, in addition to the elimination of the $20 million, which means that $31 million were cut. This means that the harbours will continue to deteriorate.
I would like to give you an example. When the roof of a house leaks, if it is left leaking for 10 years, maintaining the house or simply repairing it costs a fortune. It is the same with small craft harbours. The roof leaks now; worse, there are huge holes in it. They do not repair it. So in the end, it will cost a fortune. What will it be in 10 years? It will be a billion dollars. Then the government will tell us that it cannot repair or maintain all the harbours because it does not have sufficient funds, with the result that some more will be abandoned and the lives of the users of small craft harbours will be endangered.
That is the real issue, and here is this government trying to gag us and prevent us from speaking, we who are defending our regions and the citizens who use small craft harbours.
I mentioned that I was dividing my time with the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, because this is extremely important in his region. The infrastructure in that region, which has already been badly hit by the ground fish crisis and deeply affected by economic hardship, is in pathetic shape, as can be observed by travelling around the region from harbour to harbour. We can see firsthand how little the federal government has been concerned about our regions and its own infrastructure over the years. It got involved in duplicating Quebec's programs, instead of taking care of its own infrastructure.
I talked about 1,203 harbours all across Canada, but of these, slightly more than 700 are managed by corporations. The other thing is that volunteer corporations were created to manage these harbours, but the Department of Fisheries and Oceans cannot even support them. It simply cannot come up with a little funding to help them operate, so that they might really develop the harbours concerned.
At present, we realize that the corporations, which are, of course, volunteer organizations and are not being supported, are running out of steam. We realize that these people are wondering what the point is in the end, since the Department of Fisheries and Oceans cannot give them any support whatsoever to do their job. Worse, these people have to cope with the fishermen, the users, who are asking for repairs.
So these management corporations are used, one might say, as buffers between the federal government and the users. They have to manage the infrastructure in question, which is often in very poor condition, and receive all requests. They are the ones taking the criticism, when it should be the government being criticized.
Since I am being told I have one minute left, I would like to talk about another file, in closing, which is strangely similar to the one on small craft harbours. This is the at-sea observer program. I will speak about it later, because this is an extremely important file, on which the Conservative government, once again, has not really made up its mind. For some $2 million, the resource will be at risk across the country, from sea to sea, because the government does not want to invest this small amount of money in the autonomy and independence of the at-sea observers.