Mr. Speaker, I directed some of my inquiries to my hon. colleague from the Bloc, regarding the kind of safeguards, remedies and procedures that we have in place to ensure foreign shipping companies which enter our waters meet our standards. It is one thing to put into a bill or into a piece of legislation that we will allow them in our waters provided they meet or exceed our standards.
However, I would like someone from the government side, who has some knowledge on this matter, to clarify this whole area. What safeguards do we have if we had a real situation, such as Canada Steamship Lines Inc. entering our waters? If they were registered in Liberia and something went wrong, what steps could we take to protect the public interest? I would be very curious to see what the government has to say on that matter. This is an area of this act that is defective.
Let me expand on this topic a bit. Let us say this hypothetical shipping company is registered in Liberia. It has a fleet of 15 ships and staff of 1,500. The shipowner hires employees from the Ukraine to staff the ships and pays them $2 or $3 a day, which is much less than our Canadian standards and what my Liberal friends would say would be a compassionate level of remuneration. However, the ships do not comply with our safety standards.
The Canadian safety standards, inspection requirements and so on of ships are very demanding. Our manufacturing requirements for building ships are extremely demanding. If these ships enter our waters, we need to make sure they meet our standards in terms of safety and quality.
We are also be concerned with environmental matters. It is very easy for shippers without ethics and tough standards to dump garbage and different things into our waters which could pollute and cause problems. That is a major concern as well.
I would not be a bit surprised that some of the companies which register in Liberia or the Bahamas do that in order to escape the responsibilities, the liabilities and the high standards which we have in Canada.
I guess another concern is, if they do enter our waters and the ship crashes or sinks because of a lack of proper manufacturing safety standards, or it dumps a whole bunch of toxic substances in the St. Lawrence or the Great Lakes, or their employees bring diseases into the country because of third world type working conditions, what precisely would the act do to protect the Canadian public? What steps can we take against such shippers? Do we send something off like the Italians did concerning the Mafia person in Canada? Do we send something off to Liberia and ask the Liberian authorities to step in and help us out? Do we go to Liberian court and start some sort of court action to try to collect damages from that country? I think these are serious questions.
Members on the government side ought to know these are serious matters and they cannot be dealt with in a trivial manner. The Canadian public safety and interest is too important. This aspect of the bill should be shored up. When it goes to committee I would encourage government members to really zero in on this area and address it because it is very skimpy. The act says “meet or exceed Canadian standards” but I do not see anything in it that says how we are going to ensure that.
Is the Department of Transport going to send people over to Liberia, like it did with the Brazilian beef issue, and check everything out to make sure that it has top insurance standards on its ships, that it has good humane standards for taking care of its employees, that it has collective bargaining rights and tough measures in regard to environmental measures? Is that what the act contemplates? I do not really see that in the act.
A lot of people have the impression that many important and powerful Canadians are evading our laws by simply going offshore. They might preach and talk about Canadian values, high standards and the Liberal way of doing things, but as soon as they have an opportunity for their own self interest they go outside the country. They will circumvent our laws to suit themselves. This is something that should not be overlooked in the act.
It is a good act with a lot of teeth in it to make Canadian owners comply with the law. It is lacking detail as to what we do with international shipping companies that are not registered in Canada but enter our waters. That section in the act is inadequate. We need much better clarification on that point.
There is a whole list of things that this section invites. I would suggest that if international shippers are going to come into our waters we should require them to register just like Canadian shippers. This, as it is, is too easy a procedure.
Shippers can go to Liberia, or the Bahamas or some other country that does not have the Canadian standards, set up operations, then come into our waters. If they can convince someone in the Department of Transport, we could have the buck passing that we saw in the House this afternoon among the Solicitor General of Canada, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the Prime Minister and others. They all said they could not tell so and so or they could not tell this department or that department. In the meantime, the public could be sitting with a disaster on its hands.
Maybe it is like a ship that sinks in the Great Lakes, in the St. Lawrence or off the coast of British Columbia and causes a lot of problems, environmental or otherwise. We would then find out that we really have no way of dealing with the owners and that we do not have any enforcement remedies along the line. I think that is a very serious matter.
I am surprised that a Liberal government, of all governments, would not have identified the need to really have tough measures in place in this area. It is a fairly major omission in the bill. It is very tough on Canadians. It seems to be somewhat slack for international shippers who would want to come into our waters.
I am a new member of parliament and have practised law for 25 years. My attitude, based on 25 years, is that I have been shot as the messenger. Bad laws are passed by governments and I have to be the messenger for them. I have to deliver the bad news to my clients and quite often I am the one who gets blamed for it.
I am in a place today where I thought I would be at the front end of the process. Based on some of the questions of privilege raised in the House today I am not so sure that I really am at the front end of the process. I am wondering if I am not back in Nipawin, Saskatchewan at the back end of the load again.
As a practitioner of law, this is the time to tell the government to get the legislation clear in this very important area and make sure it is tough. It should be tougher on foreign shippers who come in here. Just because they are registered in Liberia or the Bahamas and Canada is written on the shipping line, it should not be a licence to come into our waters and abuse our jurisdiction. We should have very tough shipping laws. That is a major loophole in the legislation and it should be tightened up.
This should not be like the family trust matter in the Income Tax Act. There was some window dressing on that but still the tax experts, with whom I am familiar, said that the door was still wide open for wealthy families to evade and escape the tax responsibilities put into place by the Minister of Finance. We certainly do not want to see the same sort of thing happening with shipping in Canadian waters.
We had some major accidents a few years ago, such as the sinking of the Exxon Valdez off the coast of Alaska. We saw the environmental damage and disaster that caused. It is important that we have stringent and tough standards on international shippers.
I am not happy about a shipper coming into our country who is paying people who are down and out and in desperate straits. I wonder where the Liberal compassion is on the issue. The shippers hire these employees to staff their ships and pay them $2 a day. I have no idea what the safety or environmental standards are for people working on those ships. I conjure up visions of shoe manufacturers going to Malaysia to find people who are down and out and then pay them starvation type wages and so on. They then come to Canada and say that they believe in high standards and the values of compassion and fairness for Canadians. I guess that does not apply to people elsewhere.
If they are not Canadians and they can get through the loopholes, why should they not exploit labour, why should they not forget about collective bargaining rights and all the other things that the Liberal government has put into place for Canadians? This is a serious concern.
My reading of the act is that there is only one section that deals with the matter and it simply states that a foreign owned company can enter our waters for shipping if the authorities are satisfied that it meets or exceeds our standards.
Today and over the last few days I heard a lot of buck passing concerning a Mafia individual who is in Canada. Nobody wants to accept the responsibility for him being here. People were saying that they were not in charge of what happens in their departments and that other people were in charge. I hope that does not happen in a Valdez-type situation where there could be a major environmental problem or in a situation where someone is possibly hauling a banned toxic substance. This could be garbage from some other country which could be dumped in the St. Lawrence, on our shores or something along that line.
We should look at our immigration laws and how people look at Canada. They see our country as an easy place to escape their responsibilities and liabilities. We are seen in the world as the country to come to. If people are criminals somewhere else and the authorities are hot on their path, Canada is the country to come to. Our supreme court and our government have sent those signals out. If they can get to Canada, they will probably have three square meals a day and, if they are lucky, they might get out to Mission, B.C. and do some golfing with Colin Thatcher before it is all over, or go to the riding academy.
I think there is a problem with the bill. We see examples in other areas but the government says things are different here. There is only one way to make sure it is different. We must get the bill right the first time. It should have very tough standards in this area. The standards should be detailed and not contain just one clause that is a kind of platitude.
The bill contains very extensive details on the registration requirements but for an international shipper, it is pretty much a blank cheque. It seems to me we are giving the Department of Transport authorities an awful lot of room for discretion but with little direction.
I suppose the minister and the department could get together and have a briefing session to decide what kind of policy they would put in place. We in the opposition could then wait three or four years until one of those ships had a major calamity in our waters. We would again be embarrassed as opposition members because we would not know what had taken place behind closed doors or in starred chambers.
I encourage government members to take a very serious look at this area. I understand why some government members might be a bit intimidated to move into this area, especially ones who sit further back from the front row of the House, but it is important and they should not let the intimidation factor enter the picture. We must do our jobs and make sure that we pass good quality laws. We should not let our personal feelings toward other members enter the discussion.
This subject also raises the issue of foreign type international law questions. I do not know if there are any members here from Prince Edward Island, but authorities found, or thought they found, some sort of disease on one-quarter or 60 acres of land in P.E.I. so they totally killed the potato crop industry in P.E.I. They did this without checking it out and caused terrible harm to the people of P.E.I..
We almost did the same thing to Brazil. The government decided, in the context of a trade fight between Brazil and Bombardier and other matters, that the way to get the message across to the Brazilians was to hit them where it hurt, which was to shut down their beef export industry. The government came up with some sort of bogus allegation and said that in the name of public safety, it was shutting down that industry until it was satisfied that the beef was safe. We then send a bunch of people over there who find out there was really nothing wrong with the beef and the ban is lifted.
I feel we may also have a lot of problems with the shipping arrangement. The bar has been set very low for shippers coming into our country and international shippers who do not meet our standards come in under the bar. A disaster could happen and we would end up checking it out afterward. That is not the way to do things. We should make sure that the legislation is tight and that it does not have any loopholes. We have enough loopholes in our laws. We must address this area so it does not become a major problem.
My hon. colleague from the Bloc made some very good comments and I encourage the government to take a look at the concerns he raised. Details will kill us on these sorts of things but this area has no detail. The devil is in the detail and there are no details in this area. It is wide open. To me it is almost like giving a blank cheque to get into our waters.