Mr. Speaker, previous speakers have opened the door on any number of interesting aspects of Bill C-12. We cannot look at the context of this actually quite thin and straightforward bill in isolation. By its very nature, it has broad, expansive implications into the very fabric of how we structure ourselves in many aspects of civil society, not the least of which is the point my colleague from Malpeque just made. I thank him for doing that because it segues nicely into some of the concerns and reservations I want to raise about the bill.
We have to use an abundance of caution and be ever vigilant that the things we do in the interests of national security do not trample and interfere on some of the very values by which we define ourselves as Canadians. We also have to be abundantly cautious and use great vigilance to ensure that those who would use the bill to advance other secondary objectives be cautioned now by astute members of Parliament, doing diligence in their study of the bill, that we will not tolerate this.
I want to stop short of impugning motives in the introduction of bills of this nature, but we can learn by example from other countries, certainly our neighbour to the south. I can say without any hesitation at all and without any fear of contradiction that the United States administration has used the national security crisis to achieve other secondary objectives, some of which have been punitive to Canada. I do not think that is telling stories out of school and it is not showing any disrespect to our American neighbours to point out that we are not idiots, we have noticed this.
My colleague pointed out some very helpful specifics in terms of levies and fees and stuff that are administered now to Canadian shippers as they export goods to the United States. An added burden is being put on them to meet the new standards put in place by our American neighbours, under the umbrella of national security, or fear of bioterrorism or any number of enabling themes and motifs they are using in those arguments. There are a number of examples that we could use.
We are very cognizant of personal freedoms and will not allow them to be violated, but let us be equally cautious that people are not using public fear to justify the unjustifiable in any other context. That would certainly apply to the U.S. experience of using the threat of bioterrorism to disadvantage Canadian exporters and essentially to put up what would otherwise be viewed as illegal tariffs and subject to trade sanctions or trade complaints being filed.
None of the parties that I have heard speak to the bill seem to find fault with the idea that emergency measures preparedness needs to be reviewed. The previous Liberal government in the previous Parliament had an almost identical bill, Bill C-78. With very minor tweaking and adjustments, we are seeing it reintroduced to Parliament today.
The times we are living in warrant greater scrutiny of our emergency measures preparedness. The jurisdictional question came up quite clearly in interventions from members of the Bloc. I think we can all agree, when it comes to personal safety and national safety, that there needs to be agreed upon crossover not to show disrespect for any jurisdictional boundaries, but to acknowledge that timeliness is of the essence when people are at risk or under some kind of natural or unnatural external threat.
I can speak from personal experience how, in the event of natural disasters, Canada is quite well served and quite well prepared. I will speak from personal experience in the Red River flood that affected my region as recently as 1997. I see a colleague here from the province of Manitoba from the government side. We can say, without doubt, that as we observed that freak of nature slowly inching toward us, pieces began to fall into place. I should remind people who were not there that the Red River was 50 miles wide. That is an unnatural circumstance for people. I am used to paddling on the Red River with my canoe. The Red River is usually not as far across as this chamber, so for it to be 50 miles wide and advancing relentlessly and steadily toward the city of Winnipeg, we were in a legitimate crisis in slow motion.
I suppose we could argue that perhaps we had the luxury of time to put together an effective emergency measures reaction. It was not like the ice storm that affected Ottawa where overnight the infrastructure, certainly the electrical infrastructure, of Ottawa collapsed. However, I can say with some sense of pride that the people of Ottawa had in place measures and circumstances that served the residents here very well too. I was a member of Parliament then and I watched how this city was able to react and absolutely minimize, not only the inconvenience, but the loss of life, the injury and the risk to services, to property and to people.
What I want to raise with the Red River flood, though, Mr. Speaker, if I could--I hope you feel it is in the context and order of the debate--is that there is a case to be made for collective, cooperative action in the preparation for and administration of emergency services. I cite as an example something that happened in the 1960s in Manitoba that could never happen today, and that is the digging of the Red River floodway, the largest engineering feat in history in terms of volume of earth moved, bigger than the digging of the Suez Canal. It was a public infrastructure initiative where, if we raised something of that scope and magnitude today, we would be laughed out of the room. People would say that we could not afford it, that it would be a waste of taxpayer money, that it would be a boondoggle. They would find 100 reasons to say why it should not be done and maybe they would say that we should let the private sector build it in a public-private partnership and maybe it could get done that way, but probably not because we are so timid now.
We are timid as rabbits when it comes to doing things like building a nation and building great projects. There is no collective vision and no national dream any more. That is the guts that it took. A Conservative premier, I will give him credit, named Duff Roblin simply would not listen to the naysayers and that investment, the largest infrastructure project in the nation's history and in the world at the time, has saved the city of Winnipeg, three, four and five times over. It cost hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when $100,000 meant something but it saved billions. It saved hundreds of thousands of homes and probably thousands of lives because somebody had the guts to show some real leadership, stand up to the naysayers and say that some things are important enough that we have to invest in the future.
To this day we invite Premier Roblin to the edge of the Red River floodway and collectively thank him for being that aggressive and that stubborn and not taking no for an answer. As we speak, that floodway is being widened. We are actually digging it deeper and wider because it is the best thing we ever did as Winnipeggers.
We cannot have enough emergency measure preparedness but it takes a collective wisdom and a collective political courage to implement that kind of collective action. I can just imagine the reaction of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation if we were to here with a proposal and said that we needed, for our own well-being collectively, to undertake an initiative the scope and scale of the Red River floodway. We would be laughed out of the room. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation would set up shop right outside of here and hold a press conference and ridicule us for being a tax and spend party or something. There is justification for that kind of thing when our national well-being is at stake.
I can say too, during the flood of the century in 1997, how heartened I was by not only the mobilization of the citizenship but the mobilization of the military for non-military purposes. The same training that goes into making great soldiers and an effective military unit is applied readily to emergencies such as forest fires, floods, et cetera. No one else has that capacity, whether it is the machinery, the engineering, the technology or the sheer manpower of a couple of thousand fit people who are used to working in a coordinated effort. That is a rare thing. Who else do we look to but the military when that kind of thing takes shape?
The only person who disappointed us was the prime minister of the day when he came to view the flood lines. We were all sandbagging into the middle of the night. The prime minister of the day made his obligatory visit and got his Guccis a little wet walking into some of the sandbag areas. Somebody gave him a sandbag and he said, “What am I supposed to do with this?”, and kind of turned and walked away. We were disappointed that the only person we could not get really interested in the initiative was in fact our own PM. The rest of the electorate was out there, the mayor of Winnipeg, the premier and all the MPs were on the sandbag lines, and I think citizens were glad to see that kind of effective mobilization.
The other thing I am proud of in the city of Winnipeg, in my home riding of Winnipeg Centre, is that it is home to the only level four virology laboratory in the country. We received this in kind of a backhanded way. Back in the mid-1980s, the Mulroney government gave a CF-18 contract to Montreal, even though Winnipeg had a far better bid and a far lower price. We had everything ready to go. It was an absolute slam dunk that the CF-18 contract would come to the people of Winnipeg. However, for political reasons, as happens so often, it had to go to the province of Quebec at a higher price. It was a bad deal for the taxpayer and certainly a slap in the face to western Canada.
I suppose as a booby prize, Jake Epp, the senior minister from Manitoba at the time, brought home the federal virology lab. Quebec received the billion dollar CF-18 contracts, maintaining our jets and promoting and advancing even more its aerospace industry, and we received a disease factory plunked down in a residential neighbourhood in the middle of my riding. We were not too appreciative at the time. It was a laboratory that the city of Ottawa turned down because it did not want ebola virus and every other disease in the country in its backyard, so we wound up with it.
In retrospect, we are delighted to have this level four virology lab and the international expertise that it brings to our community. However, we were concerned about the safety aspects. I can give an example of something that is in the context of an emergency. We were not so concerned about what happened in the laboratory and in the safety of handling the world's deadliest viruses in the context of the laboratory. I have toured the place. It has thick concrete walls and it is bombproof and bulletproof. However, what we questioned was the shipping and transporting of these deadly viruses from one place to the laboratory. That was the weak link in the chain. We were guaranteed this would be done with the utmost highest protocol, that Brinks trucks would be hired and they would travel in convoys, that there would be three of them and only one would be carrying the virus, so there would be decoys in case terrorists wanted to strike the one that was carrying the virus.
What happened was that as soon as our backs were turned, this was contracted out to FedEx. During a traffic accident on the corner of Logan and William where a FedEx truck ran into another car, what spilled out of the back of the van? It was a bunch of anthrax and Newcastle disease virus, which wipes out chicken populations immediately if it gets into the atmosphere.
Anthrax by FedEx is a far cry from Brinks trucks and decoys. I almost fell off my chair. I could not believe what a violation of trust this was. At the time I said, anthrax by FedEx, what is next, ebola virus by bicycle? That would be the only thing more ridiculous than anthrax by FedEx.
We were disappointed and let down in terms of emergency measures preparedness because that could have been a catastrophe. This level four laboratory is in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. It is not on the outskirts of town and it is not in an industrial park. As far as I am from you right now, Mr. Speaker, are occupied homes in a poor end of town. I guess that was some of the thought process, that it did not really matter that much because it was just in a poor end of town. It would not happen in Tuxedo, River Heights or some affluent end of town. They would not put up with a level four disease laboratory with guys shipping anthrax by FedEx but they did not seem to have any hesitation doing it in the middle of my riding, the poorest riding in Canada.
We are conscious of these things. It is a net benefit, I suppose, to the Health Sciences Centre campus that is in the heart of my riding and that this level four disease laboratory serves a national and international function in assessing and analyzing dangerous viruses, whether it is in animals or a threat to people. I should recognize and pay tribute to Dr. David Butler-Jones and Dr. Frank Plummer, the senior officials who run our level four laboratory in Winnipeg and my comments are in no way to show disrespect for the valuable work they do. I just wish they would tighten up their protocol for shipping their bugs around my city.
The last issue I would like to raise in terms of emergency measures and in the context of Bill C-12, which was also raised by my colleague from Yukon which was very helpful, is the issue of global warming. I hope the bill acts as the enabling legislation to allow senior ministers, no matter what their jurisdiction, to contemplate, prepare for and be seized of the issue of the consequences of global warming. On television the other day, I heard a climatologist say, with some sense of pride, that in the next year or two we would be able to sail the Northwest Passage uninterrupted with no icebreakers. He said that it would be open as a shipping lane and he cited the advantage to this.
I remind anyone who is thinking in those terms of the cautionary note of Tim Flannery, the world's leading authority on climate change, who was a guest at our convention in Quebec City not two weeks ago. He cited the fact that if we were ever to have the Northwest Passage open as a shipping lane, every other port in the world would be under four feet of water. He said that there would be no place for those ships to load and unload their product because we would be in a Noah's ark situation here. The world would be underwater and certainly coastal regions.
I raise that perhaps as the ultimate cautionary note as we enter into an analysis of our emergency readiness as a nation. Are we ready for this onslaught that we are bringing upon ourselves with climate change? What concrete steps are ministers of the Crown taking today to prepare ourselves for what could be a self-imposed Armageddon? I am not one of those to stand around with a sign saying “the end is near”, but I say to my colleagues and friends in the House of Commons that the end is near if we do not turn ourselves around and stop this looping effect, this compounding effect of global warming that we are doing to ourselves.
If there is any one single thing we need to do to prepare for emergencies, it is to prepare ourselves for this doom that will be upon us if we do not correct our practices, our man-made polluting of this planet to the point where it will not be habitable any more. We are soiling our own nest to the point where we will not be able to live on this planet and there is no amount of bills and legislation that we can pass that will turn that around without the political will of every minister, of everyone in authority at every level of government in the world in fact. If there has ever been an argument for world cooperation, it surely has to be to save the planet, and that transcends Bill C-12. That will need to be the motif that becomes a thread through all of our actions as elected officials.