Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 52, I would request that you rule on my request on an urgent matter regarding the ongoing delays and cancellations of the federally obligated ferry service to and from Newfoundland and Labrador. This is a growing and dire situation. It has been noted by many responsible individuals within Newfoundland and Labrador who have knowledge of the situation that there are indeed food shortages occurring in certain areas.
Marine Atlantic is a federal crown corporation that enacts a constitutional obligation on the part of Canada to operate, in accordance with the traffic offering, a freight and passenger service between North Sydney, Nova Scotia and Port-au-Basques, Newfoundland. The terms of union, which were enacted in 1949, prescribed this as a constitutional obligation. Further, that constitutional obligation exists, as stated in the terms of union, as traffic offers.
Ice conditions are one part of the question that needs to be debated and answered by the government. What exactly is causing these consistent delays and cancellations? Yes, there are ice conditions that are affecting the ferry service, but I would also note that it is the Government of Canada that operates the fleet of icebreaking services in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Given the fact that a constitutional obligation exists on the part of Canada to maintain this in accordance with the traffic offering, for the government to simply say that ice is impeding those operations, while it in fact holds the tools to continue to maintain these freight and passenger services, in accordance with the traffic offering, is not a fair statement.
I will also add to this request I raise under Standing Order 52 that it also is incumbent upon the Speaker to consider the fact that this matter of an essential service designation was raised by Canada in 2003. The Canadian Industrial Relations Board heard a case by petitioners and ruled that the constitutionally obligated Marine Atlantic ferry service was deemed an essential service and that its operation was critical to the health and safety of all Newfoundland and Labradorians.
I would point out that 90% of all perishable goods, 90% of all food items and groceries, enter the province by way of the gulf ferry service. Its failure to operate over the last several days and weeks means that those grocery items are in short supply. The fact that the Canadian government has not been able to provide adequate icebreaking services has led to a situation whereby the health and safety of Newfoundland and Labradorians is now in question.
Given the fact that a constitutional obligation exists on the part of Canada to operate this ferry service; given the fact that there has already been a quasi-judicial board ruling that states that this service is indeed an essential service and must be maintained, or health and safety will be compromised; given the fact that the Government of Canada operates and maintains the means for this service to continue to operate under all conditions, including with the provision of icebreaking services; given the fact that the Government of Canada also makes decisions with regard to the particular specifications of the ferries they employ for the operation of this service; given the fact that there has already been noted a serious health and safety concern that needs to be alleviated immediately; given the fact that there are no relative means for the House to pursue this question, as this is a complex issue for which concerns raised during question period would not necessarily be able to provide adequate answers not only for Parliament but for Canadians in general; and given the fact that a question has to be put, after an exploration of the facts, we would implore the Speaker to allow this emergency debate to occur so that the government can put forward its position on these matters and inform Parliament and all Canadians as to how exactly this evolved into this circumstance and what exactly it wants to do about it.
This is a matter of grave urgency, and I ask you, Mr. Speaker, if you would provide us with an opportunity to further debate it.