Mr. Speaker, today we are debating Bill C-3 and while some Conservative members asked questions, none actually spoke on this legislation. Yet, this is a government bill. It should be very important to the Conservatives, but not a single one rose to talk about safety and the investments made to ensure that there will be fewer spills and that tanker traffic will be safe.
We live in a country blessed with natural wealth. There is an abundance of natural resources. The development of these resources, including mining, rail, forest and marine resources, is largely responsible for our country's economic prosperity. We must secure this prosperity in the long term, and to do so we must protect our environment.
An offshore oil spill can have catastrophic consequences for decades, such as water pollution, dwindling fish stocks, harm to health and to the environment, and massive job losses.
Today more than ever, our wealth depends on how we manage our resources. That is the key to our development and this should be an inescapable fact. Bill C-3 seeks to amend five important acts dealing with the aviation, aeronautics and marine industries. Bill C-3 is a new version of Bill C-57. The NDP had asked that this bill be amended to ensure that it truly protects our environment. Unfortunately, as usual when it comes to environmental protection, the Conservatives rejected all our calls to improve former Bill C-57.
The most important part of the bill deals with marine safety and oil spills. It is also this aspect of the legislation that needs improvement. In fact, if we really want to protect Canada's coasts that part should be examined by experts. Part 4 of Bill C-3 amends the Marine Liability Act. It deals with the concept of liability in the event of an oil spill. Under the act, the owner of a ship is responsible for the costs and expenses incurred by the government following the spillage of dangerous products at sea.
Part 5 of Bill C-3 amends the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. It sets new rules to compel oil companies to notify the minister of their operations. These companies will have to submit a response plan to deal with a disaster or an accident. The NDP, a number of stakeholders and many citizens have been eagerly awaiting such a provision.
The bill is absolutely necessary, but it does not meet many of the challenges of oil development and transportation in Canada. It is a good step forward, but it is still quite limited. This legislation should include many other aspects of marine transportation.
The shipping of oil is risky business. As a number of my colleagues pointed out, tanker traffic tripled between 2005 and 2010, and it is expected to triple again by 2016. The increase in oil shipments leads to more spills, whether onshore or offshore. According to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, there have been close to 10,000 spills in the world since 1970. That is a huge number and it is very alarming.
I will refresh your memory. In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil platform spilled 678,000 tonnes of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In March 2001, the Petrobras oil platform, in Brazil, spilled 300,000 tonnes of oil. In March 1989, the Exxon Valdez spilled 38,000 tonnes of oil off the coast of Alaska, not too far from us. Canada is not sheltered from these accidents. Burrard Inlet is the second most dangerous point to navigate in Vancouver. In March, the largest emergency response ship ran aground off the coast of Vancouver and took 11 hours to make the trip to Vancouver from Esquimalt. There are some problems, and we should carefully consider this issue in committee to make practical amendments and improvements that address current needs. With the increase in maritime traffic in the Arctic, the risk of accidents is even higher.
Canada's ability to combat pollution in a northern climate is more limited than in a southern one. Intense cold, distance and lack of on-site emergency equipment would make emergency operations much more complicated.
Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, recently said:
If a tanker were to spill oil off the coast of British Columbia today, the federal government would not have the resources to handle a large-scale disaster.
Last year, Scott Vaughan, the former commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, said that the liability limits and compensation programs could be inadequate if a spill were to happen.
The absolute liability limits have not been changed in 24 years. Updates have been needed for ages. Although the Conservative government plans on increasing petroleum resource development, it has not increased liability for these resources. For example, the Atlantic liability is $30 million. However, the full cost of cleanup for the Exxon Valdez disaster was more than $3 billion. That is a disproportionately big difference, and it is quite worrisome.
The U.S. coast guard seems to take the risk of accidents more seriously. The Minister of Natural Resources is studying the effects of increased tanker traffic on the west coast whereas Senator Maria Cantwell feels that a supertanker oil spill near our shores would threaten the thriving coastal economy and thousands of jobs.
It is therefore difficult to understand why the Canadian Conservative government is making cuts to marine safety. Why did the Conservatives shut down the Newfoundland and Labrador marine rescue centre? Why do they want to close the Quebec City marine rescue sub-centre? The sub-centre responds to almost 1,500 distress calls every year. Why close down the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in British Columbia? Why make cuts to marine communications and traffic services, including the terminals in Vancouver and St. John's?
No matter how much the Conservatives remind us that they want to improve marine safety, they are not able to rise in the House today to answer questions, to clarify the situation and to defend their views. No one on the Conservative side has stood up today. Yet these issues are vital to public health and safety, environmental protection and thousands of jobs.
Ever since the Speech from the Throne, they think they are the champions of job creation when they are actually jeopardizing thousands of jobs. That boggles the mind. It makes no sense at all.
The government should understand that, to respond to risks at sea, it must base its decisions on science and facts, and consult with experts, not censor them or cut their jobs.
Bill C-3 could be greatly improved if the government listened to what the experts and the opposition have to say. That seems a lot to ask, however, of a government that prefers to base its decisions on old neo-liberal theories like “government intervention is not required” and “industry will be self-regulating”. We can see what that way of thinking produces when we talk about rail safety or food safety. Many incidents occur, and people are affected. The Conservative theory does not work, and it leads to disasters like what occurred recently in Alberta.
The NDP would nevertheless have a few suggestions to make to the government, if it was prepared to listen. We suggest that it cancel the cuts to marine safety, strengthen the capacity of petroleum boards so that they can see about preventing oil spills, and raise the limit for cleanup after a spell. The limit is currently set at 10,000 tonnes, which is not really enough, given the increase in the size of tankers and in the traffic.
We also suggest that it apply the polluter-pay principle. That is what the government said it would do in the Speech from the Throne. We are still waiting for the government to put the principle into practice.
It should also bolster the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund. This currently stands at $400 million, but the damage from a single spill like the Exxon Valdez spill, for example, would run into billions of dollars. The government should therefore be more realistic, and a little more responsible.
The NDP would also like very much to hear from expert witnesses on part 2 of the bill. Under clause 19, the military is given investigative powers formerly assigned to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which issued public reports. That will no longer be the case.
There is some progress, therefore, in this bill, but much more work has to be done to achieve real improvement. We have to bring in more resources and arrange for experts to be consulted, so that safety is improved in practical ways in oil projects.