Mr. Speaker, I am here today to talk about the act to amend the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992. I will talk bit about the threats and responses to deal with the problems of the transportation of dangerous goods.
I think most Canadians would find it very interesting to know that literally tens of millions of times every year dangerous goods are shipped somewhere in our country. Problems can arise either from a domestic accident or, as some of my colleagues have mentioned before, from a terrorist activity.
We have seen much in the way of domestic challenges at home. Basically, there are two factors in the response. The first is the people and the second is the infrastructure, and we use the word “infrastructure” quite liberally.
Let us talk about the response from the people. We have first responders, which are ambulance personnel, police forces as well as firefighters. Firefighters do not have the equipment, training or tools to engage in what we call hazmat. Hazmat training, material and infrastructure is what they need. They are the first people in line to address these dangerous situations. Part of the challenge is to ensure that we have some level of coherence in how things are labelled.
As everyone can appreciate, first responders, such as firefighters or RCMP officers, need to know what is in a shipment. That is part of the problem. When people respond, they do not necessarily know what they are up against. What the hazardous material is determines in many ways what one needs to do and how to respond to that threat.
I recommend that the government listen to what first responders say they need in infrastructure, training and personnel and let them have it. Them not having it compromises their very lives.
I want to talk about the RCMP. I think most Canadians would be shocked and appalled to know that before Christmas the government tore up the wage agreement that the Prime Minister announced in Vancouver. He stood in front of the RCMP and said that the government would give it a wage agreement, an agreement, I might add, that was nothing more than to provide parity between our RCMP, one of the finest police forces in the world, and provincial and municipal forces. That is all it was asking for. What did the government do, without any consultation? It tore that up.
This has huge implications. We know we have a manpower deficit in the RCMP across the country. In my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, many times our RCMP officer contingent is down by a third or more. How does officers respond to urgent situations, particularly in view of the fact that RCMP officers now have to respond in twos situations?
This means they are unable to respond on the ground to a number of call-outs important to the public, such as public security. The fact that the government has torn up this agreement is not only an affront to one of the finest police forces we have in the world, but it is also exacerbates the deficit because it will make it more difficult to recruit and retain RCMP officers.
When RCMP officers ask themselves why they should not get more money on a municipal or provincial force, with less risk, not having to move around as much, which is better for their families, they decide to do that. It not because they do not love the RCMP, but it is an affront.
On behalf of our front line RCMP officers, I ask the government to honour its wage agreement and its promise. I ask the Prime Minister to honour what he said and allow the wage increase to happen. It is a matter of honour and fairness to RCMP officers.
The Department of National Defence firefighters, and there are only about 400 of them in our country, respond to some of the most serious threats in hazardous spills. DND works with some very dangerous materials.
The average lifespan for a firefighter is about 59 years. The average lifespan for a male is 79 years and for female, it is 82 years. We can see there is quite a difference.
When we were in government, we negotiated a change with the firefighters in the accrual rate for their pensions, so they could increase the payments they made into their pension to make up for the fact that they retired early and they did not live as long as other Canadians, in part because of the dangerous work they do.
The government agreed to this. It was all signed. The problem is it has not been implemented. It is sitting on the minister's desk. We ask the minister, again, to do the right thing and honour the accrual rate for our DND firefighters and implement it today. There are only 400 of them. Again, it is a matter of fairness as they engage in very hazardous work. It is a matter of fairness and it makes actuarial sense.
On the other aspect of infrastructure, search and rescue operations are very important. We have Buffalo fixed-wing search and rescue planes. They are excellent, but they are old. We had an agreement that was to go cabinet. Unfortunately, there was a change in government and that sat there, and it sits there today.
The need is there and the process is there. The problem is the Conservative government will pursue a single-sourced contract. A single-sourced contract with who? With an Italian company. Why is the government doing this when we have Canadians, like Viking Air on Vancouver Island. It has the contract to build the a modernized version of the Buffalo fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft. Why can it not to compete? It is not asking for the contract, although it would like to have it. It is asking to have the chance to compete. A Canadian company is asking to compete fairly, openly and on a level playing field with other competitors, whatever they may be.
Why is the government preventing an open contract to bid for the replacement for the Buffalo fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft? My province of British Columbia has more than 50% of the search and rescue needs in Canada. It is very important for my constituents and my province. It is, in fact, a matter of life and death, not only for the citizens of my province but also for the brave men and women who work as SAR techs, the search and rescue technicians who do extraordinary things, under extraordinary circumstances, to save lives.
Again, we ask the government to honour the agreement. Do what is right and have an open contract, with a fixed period of time, with a simple statement of requirements so our Canadian companies can compete. Do not close the door on them and allow a foreign company to come in and take this contract.
The Internet is an area where there are many opportunities to buy and sell products, but it also has a black side to it. In other words, we can buy and sell all manners of things, including potentially illegal products. I ask the government, and this is a new area, to explore ways to work with Internet providers to prevent the trafficking, buying and selling of products that can be used by terrorists for terrorist activities.
A very sensible thing was done by eBay. On the issue of the trafficking of endangered species products, eBay took the extraordinary act and said that it would not allow that to happen because it would contribute to the destruction of endangered species in our world. Good for eBay.
I ask the Canadian government to extend the thinking on that and pursue, with Internet providers, a list of products that can be bought and sold and used by terrorist groups to kill people or those who simply want to kill people en masse.
On the issue of terrorism, last night I listened to an extraordinary speech by a former prime minister, the Right Hon. Joe Clark. If I may humbly say so, I strongly recommend that all members of Parliament, and in fact all Canadians, if they have the chance, to listen to Mr. Clark's speech. He gave parliamentarians and Canadians an option. He looked at where the nation would go in the future. He contrasted this with what is taking place south of the border and the changing administration in the U.S. in the way of governance.
Mr. Obama has recognized that we can no longer do the things we have done to provide our security. A military option will not solve these problems. We need to utilize our diplomatic skills, our development skills and our military skills as well. We need to use all those in an integrated fashion and intelligently. He is putting a much greater emphasis on the diplomatic and the development side of the equation to address the challenges and threats abroad.
Some people who blow themselves up and kill innocent civilians are simply terrorists. Others are Islamic fundamentalists. Others form a wide range of groups and individuals with varying interests. It is absurd for us to lump everyone into single group and suggest that their motivations and objectives are the same. They simply are not.
Mr. Clark posed the following. He said that there was a greater emphasis on diplomacy and development south of the border. Where is Canada? Where is the Canadian government? What is it doing? This is fascinating. In the last year the government has reduced spending in foreign affairs by 18%. It rightly increased spending for defence by 9% and it increased development spending by a whopping .68%. That is shocking.
One of the major tools and opportunities we have as a country are our extraordinary diplomats. Many other countries do not have this. We have an extraordinary foreign service. However, the government cannot eviscerate our foreign service and expect us to deal with the international threats before us today.
Because of the diaspora in our country, because of our linguistic capabilities, we have opportunities to do what few other countries in the world can do. We are an interface between our friends south of the border and the European Union. We are an Asia-Pacific country. We sit at the crux of major centres of power in the world. We are in some ways a sort of glue.
In this mix we have in our great country we have opportunity: diplomatic opportunities, development opportunities and military opportunities. The point is there has been an absence of foresight, vision and planning in foreign affairs and development, not because of an absence of skill in those areas in our public service, or an absence of NGOs in our country, or an absence of Canadians wanting to contribute and deal with the big global challenges that affect us in Canada and around the world. It is an absence of foresight on the part not of the ministers necessarily but on the part of the Prime Minister and the small cabal of people who surround him where decisions are made in our country. Therein lies the fault.
In my view the Prime Minister has to start changing his thinking in a big way. He must start reaching out in a meaningful way.
We have in my party, as in other parties, wonderful people with great skill sets. They can contribute to dealing with these challenges, and I will name a few.
There are enormous problems In Pakistan, which is the epicentre of what is driving terrorism today. We have Pakistani and a south Asian diaspora in our country that is willing to help.
Is the government reaching out to them? No. Why not? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. These people have skills. They are Canadians, they are Indo Canadians, Pakistani Canadians, individuals who want to contribute and can contribute. Where is the reach out? Where are the initiatives to do that? They are not there. It is an absence of foresight.
Corruption is killing Pakistan. There is an interplay between the ISI, between the politicians, between al-Qaeda and between the Taliban that has refuge there. This will require significant diplomatic and development skill sets that are not being utilized by our country.
On the issue of Afghanistan, for two years now my party has been offering the government solutions to deal with Afghanistan. The government has turned a deaf ear to them. It has produced a military option. Our forces are doing an extraordinary job there. However, we will not enable our forces to do their job and we will not protect them and reduce their threat level unless we address the diplomatic initiatives that are required.
For example, why is the government not pursuing a grassroots, Afghan-led tribal reconciliation process? Why is it not doing that? Internecine conflicts have been taking place in Afghanistan for decades and across generations. Why is the government not working to pursue a regional working group with India, with Pakistan, with China, with Iran, with Afghanistan? Why is it not doing that? We cannot deal with the conflict in Afghanistan unless we have the regional players there. If we do not deal with that, then our threat levels are not reduced here at home.
Why is the government not doing that? Why is it not dealing with the opium crop, which is the substrate that feeds the financial abilities of terrorist organizations to fund themselves, by producing a plan that replaces poppies with the plant artemesenin. What is artemesenin? It produces a drug of the same name that is the drug of choice to treat malaria. Malaria kills three million people a year. Why does the government not do a crop replacement to replace poppies with artemesenin, a high-level crop that gives farmers a high rate of return, and in doing so undermine the financial underpinnings of terrorist groups?
Why does the government not help by working with people like former foreign affairs minister Flora MacDonald, who is doing an unbelievable job in the Bamyan province of Afghanistan dealing with the Hazara people? She is doing extraordinary work. When she asks CIDA for money, what does CIDA say? They do not have any. They are not willing to engage a former Progressive Conservative foreign minister, one of the extraordinary women of our country, who is doing wonderful, amazing work in a country that is a primary development interest of this government. They shut the door or her. Why is that so? This is absurd. The government has to start thinking out of the box and must start engaging with other countries.
I will close off with the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The Palestinians cannot keep living in a cage. That is what they are living in. Rockets cannot keep going over to Israel. Attacks cannot happen against Israel, but the Palestinians cannot continue to--