Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to rise in the House to speak today on second reading of Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Marine Act, the Canada Transportation Act, the Pilotage Act and other Acts in consequence.
I have to say that when the bill came up in our caucus we had a lot of discussion among our members. It became evident very quickly that there was a lot of interest in the bill because it will have impacts on ports across the country and certainly on ports in our ridings. It became very clear that a number of us, for a long period of time, have been dealing with issues surrounding ports, port development and the interface between port lands and residential lands.
So on the one hand I am very glad that the bill is coming forward, because it does allow us the opportunity to raise I think some very longstanding systemic issues concerning the operation of our ports and the relationship that ports have to local government and local communities.
In my riding of Vancouver East, the whole northern boundary of my riding from Cambie Street all the way to Boundary Road, where we have the boundary with the municipality of Burnaby, borders the waterfront and is structured through the port of Vancouver. The port has a huge impact on the people who live in east Vancouver in terms of employment, economic development and the relationship between what happens in the port and the impact on the surrounding community.
I want to begin my remarks today by saying that overall we recognize the importance of port lands, port activity and the number of jobs that are contained in the port of Vancouver. It is a significant employment generator. There is huge spinoff activity. Certainly the port of Vancouver is the largest port in Canada, with significant container port activities.
These are all things that drive the economy of British Columbia. They drive the economy of Vancouver, being on the Asia Pacific gateway. We recognize that there are significant jobs related to the port. They are generally good jobs. There are issues that arise, but we understand the importance and the value of the port in our local community and the local economy.
However, I also have to point out that over the years we have dealt with many issues relating to port development. The thing that I find most difficult is the relationship with the local community and the fact that there has been a lack of an adequate, proper and sustained planning process. In the bill before us, a number of issues that are dealt with warrant our serious attention. I know that we in the NDP will be very active when the bill goes to committee, because we will be seeking changes and amendments to reflect the concerns that we have had expressed to us by local residents.
There are issues in the bill concerning the amalgamation of ports. There are issues concerning the restructuring of the governance model. In fact, there is a reduction in the number of directors who can be appointed. In the case of the port of Vancouver, it is between 7 and 11 directors, and there is a concern about what kind of representation that will be. There is also a concern about security issues. I am going to go into each of these issues to spell out some of our concerns.
First, in terms of the governance and security, I recently wrote to the Minister of Transport to point out that under the proposed changes there was no recognition that there needed to be labour representation on the port of Vancouver and presumably on other ports across the country.
When I wrote to the minister, I made this very clear. I will quote from my letter, which was sent in October:
Labour's longstanding commitment and positive contributions to the success of our waterfront industry must not be undervalued. Labour performs a wide range of important functions in a modern day working waterfront and is a key element to its success. Moreover, not only do they contribute a labour perspective, but also economic, social and environmental perspectives.
The reply I got from the Minister of Transport was that this was all well and good, but not to worry, labour representation will continue in the form of membership on the Vancouver Port Authority user committee. I feel that is a very inadequate response.
I have no problem with labour or other stakeholders being on a user committee, but we are talking about the governance structure and the board of directors itself. It seems to me there has to be a recognition by the government that there should be a labour perspective on the board of directors. There are business perspectives. There are maritime perspectives.
There needs to be a perspective and an analysis brought to that board of directors that come directly from the people who have incredible experience working on the waterfront and who are very familiar with the issue. I was very dissatisfied with the reply from the minister. This will be one of the issues that we will take up in regard to the bill.
Second, in regard to governance and security, the other issue that has been of huge concern for the Vancouver waterfront and what is happening is the question of new rules that are coming in, the maritime security clearance program, which has caused an enormous amount of disruption, anxiety and concern for the many thousands of people who work on the waterfront in terms of what they are now subject to for new security clearance regulations.
I would refer to a press release that was issued by the International Longshore & Warehouse Union of Canada in July of this year, in which the union points out that the security clearance program requires port employees to submit an extensive questionnaire to government, covering matters ranging from the names and addresses of past spouses, to schools attended, to past travel destinations. Further, the program requires employees to consent to the release of this information to foreign governments.
There is an enormous concern about the infringement of privacy rights. In fact, the ILWU submitted a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner in August of this year regarding these new provisions in the security clearance program.
In the complaint the union put forward to the Privacy Commissioner, it points out that the security clearance form collects personal information, which presumably may lead to profiling of employees based on simplistic assumptions about differing regions of the world and to different treatment of employees based on their national origins or countries they may have visited. This raises the concern that Transport Canada may profile applicants, deny clearances and thus deny employment. This is noted in the letter from the ILWU, which is fighting this tooth and nail.
I am proud to say that in our B.C. caucus of the NDP members of Parliament, we have been supporting the union. I know that the member for Burnaby—New Westminster has been very active on this file as well, because we believe that these security measures are completely over the top. They are infringing upon people's rights. There has been very little public information about them. We believe they should be challenged. We support that challenge.
I would say that these new security measures are quite ironic, because we have to remember that it was the previous Liberal government that actually eliminated the Ports Canada Police in 1998. When I first got elected in 1997, this was a very major issue.
In east Vancouver we could not believe that the ports police, who had been a key part of the waterfront in patrolling and dealing with security issues, were going to be eliminated. Indeed, they were eliminated across the country.
It is ironic that a specialized force with experience, knowledge and a background in dealing with security issues in ports across the country was eliminated, while now we are facing these incredibly restrictive and onerous provisions that are impacting individual lives and the lives of family members, even former spouses. This is sort of putting people on a watch list. We have very grave concerns about these provisions. Again, we will be raising these issues as we have more debate on this bill.
My third concern about this bill relates to the large question of, as I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, the interface between legitimate port activity and residential communities. I do want to reiterate that this issue is not a challenge to the value and the importance of the port. It is a concern that comes up over and over again in regard to the role and the relationship of the port with a local community and a local municipality.
There are numerous issues that involve my riding of East Vancouver that not only I have been addressing as the member of Parliament on behalf of my constituents, but that the former member of Parliament, and the member of Parliament for Vancouver East before that, Margaret Mitchell, whom I am sure members remember, also addressed frequently in the House.
There is a whole series of development questions that have arisen about our port and cause residents to have serious concerns about what kinds of developments take place under the guise of port development, as well as concerns about the negative impact those developments can have on a local community. For example, in the Burrardview community, residents have been fighting the Lafarge concrete batch plant on the basis that it is an inappropriate use to have that plant so physically close to a residential neighbourhood.
We were very disappointed with the Supreme Court decision that allowed this concrete batch plant to go ahead, although we do not know at this point whether it will actually proceed. In July I wrote to the Minister of Transport about it. In fact, I have written many times to the minister, but one of my more recent letters was written in July. I pointed out:
Although the court has ruled, the decision does not abrogate the responsibility of Transport Canada to respect the needs of residents in the adjacent Burrardview neighbourhood. Given that this is the only location in Vancouver where residents live next to an industrial port--which happens to be Canada's largest and busiest--I believe that a constructive and compatible co-existence must be achieved between the industrial uses of the Port lands and the quality of life of neighbouring residents.
The minister finally wrote back in September, several months later, and said:
The decision clarifies the authority in the Canada Marine Act under which the Vancouver Port Authority...may lease its Schedule C property (non-federal real property) to Lafarge Canada Inc. Transport Canada and the VPA will conduct their activities with full regard to the decision in this complex case, as well as the needs of the community and the legislative and regulatory framework governing the VPA.
There is an acknowledgement that obviously there will have to be a review if an application comes forward, but this does not leave one with a sense of confidence that Transport Canada or the port authority will, in an open and above board way, recognize and work with local residents to mitigate their concerns and deal with something like a concrete batch plant development, which would have a big impact on local residents. That has been one issue around development.
There have been many others. One example is grain dust. Numerous rail lines go through the port of Vancouver, which is a major terminus for the grain cars coming in from the Prairies. Again, I emphasize that we understand the value and importance of this.
However, the grain terminals are of great concern to people, especially the environmental and physical impacts of dealing with that amount of grain. I usually write several times a year to the port, as well as to the minister. My latest letter was sent in April of this year. I pointed out that a lot of people lived on Wall Street, which is near the port. They have experienced large amounts of dust in the air around the neighbourhood.
I also pointed out that the Port of Seattle had a very comprehensive approach for dealing with grain dust. It utilizes a comprehensive vacuum system as part of its dust management plan. I wanted to know why the Port of Vancouver had not investigated and utilized similar kinds of programs. The grain dust from the terminals is another issue that has been of grave concern in the local community.
Another issue that has impacted the quality of life is the West Coast Reduction plant, a rendering plant that takes waste from many restaurants and businesses. Products are rendered and then sold. When I was on Vancouver city council in the 1980s, the odour and pollution from this plant caused enormous concerns in the local community.
On this issue, the Greater Vancouver Regional District has been quite responsive to resident concerns. It has tried to bring in regulations and ensure that they are met by the West Coast Reduction plant in an attempt to deal with the very serious problems with the odour. Again, I have written letters with regard to this.
The port's reaction has always been that it really does not affect anyone and that the people should live with it. It has not satisfied the concerns of local residents who have to deal with these issues on a day by day basis. It is something that seriously affects the quality of their lives.
Another issue is train noise. When changes took place in the rail yards, the shunting yards were moved further east. This had an enormous impact, particularly in the early hours of the morning when engines were being linked and de-linked. Train noise could go on for hours. We learned that from the rail yard's point of view, it was easier to allow engines idle than to turn them off and restart them.
The impact of the noise on local residents was quite severe. People lost sleep and they could not get to work. We have dealt with this issue on numerous occasions, with many letters back and forth between me, the minister, the port and the rail companies, to try to address this issue.
Finally, the most current question is whether port lands will now be used for a major new soccer stadium development very close to downtown, between what is called CRAB Park and Canada Harbour Place. A significant concern is the proposed development and its impact from the point of view of noise, traffic, congestion and the environment. One proposal had the stadium going over the rail yards, where hazardous materials are transported in containers. There was a lot of concern about what kinds of environmental hazards they could pose.
Right now there are very active groups in the community, such as the Burrardview Community Association, the CRAB-Water for Life Society, the Central Waterfront Coalition, the Gastown Residents Association, the Gastown Neighbourhood Coalition, all of which have a very significant interest in what happens with the proposal for a development for a private soccer stadium on these crucial lands in the central waterfront area in the city of Vancouver.
In November I wrote the minister about this issue. I raised issues about the proposed development, which has not yet been approved, and the impact it will have.
The bill is an opportunity to flag these issues. Our ports are very important, but the way they work and relate to adjacent communities and municipalities is also important. I do not believe the bill really addresses that question and if we do not address it, then we will continue to have these issues come forward. We will continue to have a high level of frustration. We will continue to have an impact on the quality of life.
I feel we can be much more proactive in how we set up planning processes, how we set up accountability and how the governance is structured on a port to reflect these concerns.
There are some good aspects to the bill, but there are also concerns with it. From the point of view of the NDP caucus, we will pursue this at committee to ensure the concerns of local residents are met.