Mr. Speaker, in the spirit of tradition, I would like to thank the people of my riding, Saint-Jean. This is my first speech in the House since Parliament resumed, and this is the sixth time they have sent me back here. I want to thank them most sincerely for putting their faith in me, and I promise that I will continue to be effective at defending their interests.
The people of Saint-Jean also want me to defend Quebec's interests. Whenever Conservative Party members sing the same old tune about how we are useless here, we have to have faith in the people's intelligence. They re-elected a majority of Bloc Québécois members because they are satisfied with the members' work and they think that having us in opposition is better than having a bunch of government members who do not dare open their mouths. Why should we not react somewhat aggressively when told that we are useless? But I digress. I just wanted to thank my voters.
When I was given the opportunity to talk about Bill C-3, I was pleased to take part in the debate. Let me tell you why. I have been my party's defence critic since 2000. Before that, I was Indian affairs and northern development critic. Naturally, I went to the far north a number of times. I would like to tell you a funny story. Before leaving for the far north, I was still in Saint-Jean, and I asked my assistants what I should wear up there. They told me to dress as I would in Montreal. So I headed off with a suit and a little raincoat.
When I got off the plane, the thermometer said it was -30oC. I had to find a store where I could buy some more appropriate clothing in a hurry. I did not look at all like a northerner. I looked like a southerner in the far north for the first time—which is what I was. So I went around the town of Iqaluit, where I met people and asked them what their lives were like, if things were still as tough as they used to be. I saw that there was a huge problem with the price of food. People there pay twice as much for their food and they earn half as much as people here. It is no wonder they have trouble making ends meet.
It was very important for me to discover the far north. I discovered it the hard way. We noted that there was a certain degree of solidarity in the Inuit villages. I also noticed that there was a municipal form of government. It was not like Indian Affairs or aboriginal nations that operate based on a tribal council. Inuit villages were governed like municipalities. I was invited by the mayor of Iqaluit to speak with the mayor and councillors. I learned a great deal about the dangers facing the far north.
Many dangers threaten the far north. People are just now becoming interested in it because, as usual, the financial aspect takes priority and people realize there are riches to be had there. No one cared about it before. There was, however, one circumpolar meeting held every year or two, at which “nordicity”, that was the term used at the time, was explored. Now, we go even further than “nordicity”. How is it that the passage continues to open up and that we will soon be able to go through it all year round? This has not only economic, but also environmental repercussions. My hon. colleagues have talked about this. As Canadians and Quebeckers, we absolutely must try to regulate that.
I would also remind the House that there are now new territories in the far north. I had the opportunity to attend the creation of Nunavut in 2000. As part of the ceremony, there was a toast with a small glass of northern water. This gave me a new perspective on things because, normally, when we toast, it is not with water, but with something that looks similar but tastes much stronger. That ritual was intended to express the purity of the far north. Thus, I attended the creation of Nunavut.
I also became very involved in Nunavik, in Quebec. One must not think that today's debate is uniquely Canadian. It is also a Quebec debate. I would even say it is an international debate. In 2000, I began attending Canada-NATO meetings.
I have just come back from a meeting in Brussels where the far north was a hot topic. We are not the only ones who are realizing that commercial vessel traffic will be revolutionized by the opening of the Northwest Passage. The whole world knows it. In a minute I will talk about the different distances and tell you how many kilometres shipowners will save by sending their ships through the Northwest Passage. They can save tens of thousands of kilometres, which is huge.
As the national defence critic, I have visited the far north, mainly because many things in the far north have to do with the military. The Bloc has some concerns on that front. We do not want to see the Arctic militarized. We would like this to be negotiated, and we would like international legislation to be applied.
The answer is certainly not to build warships to stake our claim in the far north. I have a great deal of respect for the Canadian navy, but if we ever tangled with the American or Russian navy, it would not be long before Canada's navy was at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. This is really not the answer. We have to find another way. We even think that the coast guard is likely better placed to patrol and assert Canada's sovereignty.
The issue of the military in the far north is still important. Now, for this government, it is clear that this is coming. The government is making no effort to try to address this fundamental issue. It is all well and good for the far north to open to vessel traffic for economic reasons, but this affects not only the people, but the Arctic flora and fauna. For example, there is now a higher rate of drowning among polar bears. They were used to swimming from one island to another, but the islands are farther apart now because the water level has risen. That also has an impact on the whole Inuit food chain, which is something we must never forget.
What is the government doing to address this issue? It is facing facts, realizing that the passage is opening and wondering how to go about defending our national interests. Consequently, there is a problem, and in my opinion, this problem should be solved in another way. We need to think about what greenhouse gas restrictions we should be adopting so as to keep the Arctic intact and not despoil it.
We cannot let economic concerns override environmental concerns. More and more people admit this and understand that if we push the economic side of things and ignore the environmental aspect, future generations will inherit a tainted and squandered planet. Even if they were billionaires, they would not be happy living on this planet if we let things go.
We have to ask ourselves these questions. Why is the government not trying to fix the greenhouse gas issue? Why is it not trying to fix it with absolute measures instead of intensity measures? The government is saying that it will ensure that for every barrel of oil produced, there will be a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases. However, if oil companies are allowed to produce 10 times the barrels, we will not make any progress and things will be worse.
The Bloc Québécois is defending the issue of greenhouse gases and absolute measures. That is how the issue will be resolved and greenhouse gases will be reduced instead of increasing. Nothing will be fixed by simply saying that greenhouse gases will be reduced by 20% for each barrel of oil produced, when 10 times as many barrels will be produced. The problem will still be there. That is the environmental aspect.
Let us come back to the military aspect, which must also be considered. I have been to the DEW line. It is a line of radar stations that stretches from Labrador to Alaska, passing through the Yukon and the rest. There are perhaps 70 radar stations, established to study the far north and watch for a Russian bomber attack.
At one time, this line was extremely important. In the 1950s the Americans and the Canadians agreed to build that network. At the time only bomber planes could carry atomic weapons into the U.S. territory, or anywhere in America, Canada or Mexico. A network was needed to watch for these aircraft. Now, this line is somewhat obsolete, because there is no defence against intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Americans claim to have one, but that remains to be seen. There is no question that if they were the target of a massive attack, they could not stop them all. But at the time, it was important. I went to Hall Beach in the Arctic, on the DEW line. I chartered a plane and I visited about ten radar stations. I saw the environmental catastrophe that was created there in the 1950s and that has still not been dealt with. I think my colleague referred to it earlier, when he said that the federal government had increased its contribution for the cleanup from $300 million to $500 million, but it will have to increase it again, because at Hall Beach it is truly a catastrophe. I am not talking about a catastrophe merely because it is ugly, but because it is polluting and it is even contaminating the whole Inuit food chain. Whales are suffering and have many diseases. Birds, seals, all the Arctic flora and fauna are being contaminated, because there was a lack of control at the time.
Back then, they would use a barrel of contaminants and if that barrel was half empty, they would empty it on the spot and leave it there. We now realize it was a terrible mistake. There are health problems, not only affecting the flora and fauna, but also the Inuit themselves who traditionally feed on these animals, on this wildlife. So, there is a major problem with the DEW line and I think it is far from over. We will have to invest a lot more money to correct the situation. Sometimes I wonder if it is not too late.
I also travelled to Alert, which is the Canadian Forces' northernmost base. We can understand that there is a reasonable military presence. However, if the Conservative government's strategy is to arm ourselves even more heavily, I think we will have a problem, as I explained earlier.
From a military perspective, if one wants to take possession of a territory or establish sovereignty over that territory, human presence is always important. I think the far north is the subject of many studies. People want to know how to behave and affirm their presence. Many tactics are being considered right now.
Our Russian friends left a titanium case containing a Russian flag on the bottom of the ocean. That was kind of an old-fashioned approach. Long ago, nations planted flags to assert sovereignty over a territory. The Russians deposited a titanium case on the bottom of the ocean to lay their claim.
The debate is ongoing. Where do Canada's boundary waters lie? I think that when a country claims a given territory, as Canada has the Arctic, it has to implement a series of legislative measures or laws to secure that claim. That is what Bill C-3 does. It enlarges the protected area from 100 kilometres to 200. I think that is a good idea.
That being said, there is no doubt the Americans consider Arctic waters to be international waters. Along with the Americans and the Russians, the Danes also want in on the act. A lot of northern countries are looking closely at what they can claim. That is why I am saying that we should rely on governance and diplomacy to resolve the fundamental issue. We need scientific studies, and we need international courts, such as the court in the Hague, to rule in case of dispute. As I said before, we cannot let this turn into a power struggle between nations or war in the far north. That would certainly be senseless.
That is why we have the Rangers, the Canadian Forces' arm in the far north. They patrol the region. I am planning to go on patrol with them. I might not cover as much ground as them because they are in great shape, and they are used to walking long distances and camping. I do not mind camping. I am sure they know how to make igloos, but I do not think they camp in them. I am looking forward to going with them because patrolling territory is a form of sovereignty assertion. That is why planes fly over the area. The Coast Guard has a presence in the far north. All of these elements support the government's claim to the Arctic. Our military presence is important, but it must not go too far. As I said, our military would not be able to hold off an American aircraft carrier or destroyer for long. Their military is much bigger than ours.
Why not look at other surveillance options as well? In terms of defence, satellites are being developed as an option. Thus, we could ensure accurate surveillance of vast areas in the far north. NORAD is using its satellites for that purpose. They now monitor shipping traffic and can guide their ships on their routes to some extent. They can communicate with them to say, “You are not on your planned route. You must stay on your planned sea route.” Thus, satellites are gaining in importance.
Drones are another possibility. We do not need to use ships and we do not have to pay exorbitant amounts for fuel to patrol the far north. Some types of drones can patrol the area and provide appropriate surveillance.
I had promised earlier that I would talk about distances. I have seen some very impressive distances. The route that will be used will save thousands and thousands of kilometres. For example, travelling from London to Yokohama, via Panama, is a trip of 23,300 kilometres. Using the Northwest Passage, the distance is 15,930 kilometres. If the trip is 10,000 kilometres shorter, shipowners and all marine traffic will save a lot of money. I believe that is the main focus. There is not enough concern about the environment. We ask ourselves how to save money. That is humanity's downfall. Greed often wins over concern for the environment. This has to be regulated.
That is why, as other members have said, the Bloc Québécois will support the bill that is before us. As I mentioned earlier, it is a claim over a territory. If we can extend the protection zone to fight pollution, this legislation will show that we care about that region. Quebeckers also care about the north. Incidentally, the Inuits and the Quebec government have signed excellent agreements for the Nunavik. I think that, as Quebeckers, we too must monitor that part of the far north that is located on our territory. New intentions and interests are surfacing among the parties involved. There are people looking at the impact that this will have on their daily lives. Will all that is going on in the far north and all that has happened in the past have an impact on the food chain? How do we try to settle the issue once and for all?
Again, we will support Bill C-3. It is unfortunate that the government will not take the bull by the horns and say: “As for greenhouse gases, we will deal with this issue to save the far north.” However, should this become inevitable, we will have provided the solutions that we can see. We must not militarize the region. We must reach agreements at international forums to ensure that the far north is accessible to all and that Canada gets its fair share in that region and in the circumpolar regions.