Mr. Speaker, after my colleague’s speech, there is not a great deal more for me to say. He clearly outlined what we want to know about Bill C-3, An Act to enact the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act, to amend the Aeronautics Act, the Canada Marine Act, the Marine Liability Act and the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
There is a great deal of confusion at the present time over Bill C-3 and Bill C-57. We all know that is because the Conservatives prorogued Parliament. Today we find ourselves debating legislation that was outstanding when the last session of Parliament ended. Bills were brought back before the House and given new numbers. That explains the confusion. I just wanted to mention that in case anyone following these proceedings might be confused.
That being said, I do want to point out that the NDP is supporting this bill at second reading because it provides for modest improvements to marine safety. Obviously it is difficult to be opposed to something positive. Because it provides for modest improvements, we are prepared to move forward. However, the bill clearly falls short of what we had hoped and expected legislators to do, and obviously of what needs to be done.
Before voting in favour of Bill C-3 at second reading, the NDP had called for it to be referred, prior to second reading, to a committee where consideration could be given to incorporating more comprehensive measures to protect Canada’s coastlines and to neutralize or reverse to some degree the impact of Conservative cutbacks and closures affecting marine safety and environmental protection.
The issue of marine safety is obviously one that is very close to my heart, as the member for Québec. In fact, I have been calling on the Conservative government since 2011 to reverse its decision to shut down the Marine Search and Rescue Centre in Québec City. More importantly, it is the only officially bilingual centre in Canada and in North America.
I also have to say that the centre in Quebec City, which was established more than 35 years ago, was put there specifically to accommodate staff with intimate knowledge of the geography of the St. Lawrence River, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and all its nooks and crannies. The expertise developed there was substantial. I realize that for the Conservatives, expertise represents a cost that you have to slash to achieve a zero deficit.
Yet expertise is a value that contributes much more than that. That is why in this case, too, I am concerned when I see cuts made with no thought given to the investment required to protect our fellow citizens on land and at sea.
When the Quebec City maritime search and rescue centre was established, it was also a means of protecting essential services in French, now threatened by this Conservative majority government, which believes it can get away with anything.
We also know that in Quebec City, fully bilingual staff are not to be found in the centres. The decision was made to close the centre in Quebec City and transfer half the calls to Halifax and the other half to Trenton. It was also decided to transfer calls from Cap-à-l'Aigle west to Trenton, and from Cap-à-l'Aigle east to the centre in Halifax.
However, the decision made in 2011 has so far generated huge costs in logistics, competitions and job offers to find people who are competent. Efforts have been made to recruit people, but experts do not come in a Cracker Jack box. Experts are really hard to find because it takes years of experience, specific qualifications and academic credentials to build that kind of expertise.
When they sought to transfer the centre from Quebec City to Trenton, they relaxed the selection criteria in order to find recruits. According to the latest information, they nevertheless still have not found the staff they need in Trenton to handle the calls. In Halifax, the people are not yet sufficiently qualified.
In Halifax, a rescue drill was held last February. I gave a press briefing, one of many about the Quebec City centre. The rescue drill, which was billed as normal procedure, was a complete failure because, for a normal operation, it seems that they unfairly increased the number of people assigned. In spite of that, the bilingual coordinator was reportedly overwhelmed; people involved who thought they could operate just as well in French as in English were completely powerless to cope with the work to be done; there were also complaints about a lack of familiarity with the St. Lawrence, a river with a long history.
Even in the time of Jacques Cartier, there were difficulties in navigating some parts of the St Lawrence. It is a distinctive river. There are strong currents in some locations, and some parts of the river have yet to be charted. Some parts are familiar to people who use the river, but are not necessarily to be found on the numerous technical applications for navigation. That tells you how much we need experts familiar with such details, which are not always incorporated into any kind of device.
Despite the failure experienced last February, the Conservatives had decided to press on, even with failure after failure. They are transferring the Quebec City centre to Trenton and Halifax, even though nothing is right, and nothing is working after so many years. Yet they were told. What is more, there was no public consultation on the matter and there was no impact study before the decision was made. We understand, moreover, that the minister never visited the centre in Quebec City to see the work being done on site.
Whatever bill we are discussing in the House, whether it relates to transport, health or employment insurance, I am always surprised that impact studies are not carried out, and people are not consulted: neither the provinces, nor the municipalities, nor the experts in the field. No. The government believes it is right, and goes ahead and makes the decision. This is regrettable, however, because what leads us to make wrong decisions is the belief that we are right, and that we are capable of handling everything ourselves.
Nevertheless, hundreds of resolutions were adopted across Canada by associations of pilots, fishers, enthusiasts, pleasure boaters and front-line people in favour of keeping the Quebec Marine City Search and Rescue Centre open. A motion was adopted unanimously in the Quebec National Assembly. Resolutions by a number of municipalities, including the City of Quebec and everywhere else, even in eastern Canada, for example, called for maintaining the centre. Despite this, the government always turns a blind eye.
You cannot reduce services and claim to maintain them by saying that nothing will change. It is untrue. Whenever I hear the Conservatives talk, I get angry because I say to myself that they understand nothing.
In this case, whether it is the Coast Guard or the veterans that are involved, there is no app for it. You cannot say that people will manage by going on line, and everything will be done automatically. No, you need experts, you need people who can answer questions and who operate in the field. That is what is important. That is what needs to be understood in the case of Bill C-3, but also in all the decisions the government may make.
In closing, the bill seems to be part of a concerted effort by the Conservatives to address their lack of credibility in the area of transport safety. We in the NDP know very well, however, that transport safety is not something the Conservatives do.