Mr. Speaker, in an Earth Day talk I heard on April 17, Chaplain Jason van Veghel-Wood asked the question, “What is the 800 pound gorilla on the basketball court?” The question refers to something that is large and important, something that everyone should know about, but which is somehow ignored as people get distracted by less important things.
The question related to a famous psychology experiment by Chabris and Simons in which students were instructed to watch a video in which they were to count the number of times persons passed a basketball back and forth. The students were good at counting the number of passes, but when questioned, half of them failed to notice that during the game, a man dressed in a gorilla suit actually crossed the basketball court, thumped his chest and spent 10 seconds on the video screen.
As we consider the motion brought by my NDP friend this morning, I ask, Is there a gorilla on the court? Are we missing something more important than this specific question being posed today? Let me come back to that question in a moment.
As a British Columbian, like many others, I am concerned about the fuel leak from the Marathassa in English Bay. However, as a maritime nation, Canada relies on marine transportation for the success of our economy. In fact, I have heard that most Canadians do not realize this, but 92% of Canada's economy floats on salt water. Think of the grain, the natural resources, the finished materials that we ship overseas or that we receive by sea, and B.C. ports handle almost 40% of Canada's international marine traffic, more than any other province.
Our government is focused on creating jobs and economic growth. A thriving maritime trade sector continues to be a key pillar of Canada's economic opportunity, but safe and efficient marine transportation does not happen by itself. The dedicated men and women of the Canadian Coast Guard spend day and night ensuring safe navigation so Canadians from coast to coast to coast can enjoy the quality of life we are so fortunate to have in Canada.
The Coast Guard accomplishes this important mandate by having highly trained men and women in its ranks, specialized equipment at the ready and a fleet of over 115 vessels strategically deployed across the country. In addition, it maintains strong partnerships with other organizations, such as the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue in B.C., which has proud and effective stations and vessels in at least five parts of the riding I represent, West Vancouver Squamish, Gibsons, Pender Harbour and Half Moon Bay.
For friends and neighbours who believe that my riding is the most beautiful place on earth, we look to people like them to keep it that way. In other words, we British Columbians have a personal stake in maintaining the pristine nature of our coastline.
Events of the past two weeks have shown that we do have a world-class system in place. Reasonable people agree that does not mean perfection, but what does it mean? What would we expect to have in place in a world-class response system? We would expect the minimization of oil spills in the first place, a containing of the leak, committed people there to respond, top communications networks in place, good coordination among the various parties, oil out of the water fast and a minimizing of injury to waterfowl, fish, plants and humans, the whole ecosystem.
What did we see in the response to the Marathassa oil spill? We saw newly implemented regulations that govern foreign vessels that require them, within 96 hours of entering our waters, to advise what is their emergency response plan. We saw 2700 litres of bunker fuel spilled into the water. We saw a Coast Guard boat in the water within an hour and coordination among a vessel of convenience, aerial surveillance and the Coast Guard. We saw the Coast Guard working through the night to boom the spill. Eighty per cent of the oil was collected within 36 hours, and over 95% within four days, leaving just 0.3 litres in the water.
Yes, there were beaches closed, but there were hard-working trained people who were there to clean those beaches by hand. We saw a wonderful populace in British Columbia, people who take these things seriously for our environment, our tourism and our very identity as British Columbians. Thanks to our Conservative government, we saw polluter pays law that the company and its insurer will pick up the tab, not Canadian taxpayers.
Contrary to much of the speculative comments made by opposition and others following the Marathassa incident, the Coast Guard has been clear that its response was not affected in any way by the former Kitsilano base. This fact has been repeatedly stated by both the commissioner of the Coast Guard and the assistant commissioner. The Kitsilano station was a search and rescue station, not an environmental response station, and was therefore not equipped to conduct an operation of the magnitude required during this incident.
Certified environmental response organizations have the capacity and expertise to respond to these types of emergencies and, as per protocol, it was one of these organizations that was contracted by the Coast Guard.
We saw four pillars of preparation in place, investment by the government in maritime safety that paid off.
First were the area response plans. In B.C., the Coast Guard maintains marine pollution response equipment in three major centres, namely Prince Rupert, Richmond and Victoria, as well as equipment caches in 12 other communities. These caches contain a variety of response equipment, including booms, skimmers, storage tanks, protective gear vessels and other supporting equipment in order to handle a wide range of situations.
The environmental response program maintains a duty officer presence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These duty officers are the first line of defence to marine pollution incidents, and ensure that all reports of marine pollution are investigated and that an appropriate response is undertaken. When the Coast Guard needs the support of certified environmental response organizations, like the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation as in this incident, it can do so through its emergency contracting authority.
Second were the navigation aids. Our government has modernized our Marine Communications and Traffic Services centres. This modernization project is replacing the Coast Guard's current, outdated marine communications technology with a state-of-the-art platform that will improve the safety of those at sea.
Third, we have seen improved transport regulations, like the polluter pays principle that I have already referred to.
Fourth, as was discussed by the parliamentary secretary, there has been an expansion of the Coast Guard fleet. Since 2009, the government has delivered 9 mid-shore patrol vessels and 11 smaller vessels, including the pollution response vessels that support the environmental response program in B.C. Going forward, our Conservative government has committed over $5 billion to build more Coast Guard vessels, many at Seaspan, in the riding I represent.
What are we seeking when we talk about a world-class response system? Remember, excellence is not the same as perfection. While we had a world-class response, it does not mean that we cannot do better.
What would have prevented the oil spill in the first place? Maybe there were preventive measures that should have been in place. The district of Sechelt, in the riding I represent, has called for an independent investigation. We need to be committed to independent, objective reviews if we are to adhere to world-class standards in what we do.
Yes, perhaps there are better protocols that could improve the communications systems. The Coast Guard has already committed to an independent review, as discussed by Commissioner Jody Thomas on CBC last week.
In conclusion, I thank the Coast Guard people who work so hard and efficiently, the clean-up crew and people who worked to clean the beaches, and the concerned public, people like Mr. O’Dea, the boater who alerted the Coast Guard in the first place.
However, if we ask the wrong question, we will get the wrong answer every time. The NDP in this case is focusing on too narrow a question. It is a question about the installation that was at Kitsilano. What is the 800-pound gorilla on the court? Is it the provisions of one base or another? I say no. We have to take this to 30,000 feet if we are truly committed to an excellent environment and an excellent economy. If the goal is to score cheap political points on an unacceptable incident, then we can look at a policy decision that focuses on specific installations, but the installations are not the resources on which we need to call to attain a best-in-class result for the environment and the economy.
On Earth Day, a billion people will celebrate the 45th annual event. Yes, we are connected to one another and to our environment. When it comes to our government's promotion of the economy and jobs, we all know that this may mean an increase in vessel traffic in English Bay, Howe Sound and up and down the coast. Like many British Columbians who care about jobs and the economy, we accept the presence of these vessels in our waters, but only in the event of world-class marine safety.
In our pursuit of excellence for our country, we must not fall into polarized, mind-numbing, vacuous debate. I ask my friends in the opposition to be open to the true spirit of continuous improvement as we protect our marine safety. I pledge to do that. I know that my colleagues do. We must not say “stop” to our growth as a country. We must say “no” to the stop mentality. I say “yes” to independent, objective, science-based processes that will deliver to get the best guidance in how we keep our economy thriving and our environment the best that it can be.