Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House and take the necessary time to talk about the bill. First, I want to congratulate the Minister of the Environment for tabling this bill in the House. Those of us who live in Newfoundland and Labrador to understand the major tragedies caused by the careless dumping of bilge water on the ocean. We have seen this throughout our life.
Environmental disasters are common to Newfoundland and Labrador, a lot of them caused by nature about which we cannot do anything. However, the impact on the ocean, on wildlife and on the fish stocks by the companies being so callous as to dump their oil is unimaginable. One has to see it to believe it.
I have lived in Newfoundland and Labrador all my life. I have witnessed this happen. All of us are astounded at how people could be so careless in destroying our wildlife and our oceans. It just does not make any sense to anyone.
We also have another major environmental tragedy taking place on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and Labrador. The means of stopping it was led by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and myself yesterday. This environmental disaster has been taking place for the last 40 years. Fishermen from other countries around the world come to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and Labrador. They use meshes that are no larger than the hairnets worn by the workers in a fish plant to catch small fish in the ocean. They have caught so much fish that the scientific community has recommended that some species of fish be put on the extinction list. That to me is absolutely unimaginable. This is a renewable resource, but nevertheless this is being caused by large ships at sea.
We have two major environmental disasters taking place in Newfoundland and Labrador on which now the government, led by the Prime Minister and the ministers responsible, is taking immediate action.
Let me give an example of what happens to a bird when it gets in an oil slick on the ocean. The feathers become totally coated by the oil, That means the natural way of that bird surviving in the cold ocean waters of the north Atlantic is no longer effective because the oil prevents the natural insulation those birds have enjoyed.
What do those birds mean to the Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and the people in Atlantic Canada? We all love the wildlife. However, we have to remember that when people came across the Atlantic Ocean, back 500-plus years ago, they came for a reason. They came to settle on the island off the east coast of Canada because of the rich environment in the fisheries and the rich fish stocks on the Grand Banks. Naturally, when they moved to the coastlines, a way of life was developed. They depended upon the fish stocks and the wildlife as a means and a way of survival. It was their food. For hundreds and hundreds of years, people living in the coastal communities of Newfoundland and Labrador have existed that way. It is part of our heritage, our culture and our environment. It is the reason why we live in the beautiful province surrounded by the north Atlantic Ocean.
How any captain of any ship could turn on a bilge and dump oil waste into the ocean is just unimaginable. The one thing we can be grateful for is that the people who are doing this are far fewer in numbers than the people who do respect the environment. Nevertheless, some ships, which are 700, 800 and 900 feet long, that sail the ocean by Newfoundland and Labrador, up through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and other places on the Canadian coastlines have absolutely no respect for the environment, for nature or for our wildlife.
Why has this been going on for so long? Why has not been stopped? There has been legislation in place for quite some time. Recently a major tragedy happened where a captain dumped his bilges and all that oil went into the ocean. The courts made a decision that would not deter captains of boats from continuing to do that in the future. The Minister of the Environment recognized that something else had to be done.
Changes needed to be made to the legislation. The first change concerned the penalties, which were not heavy enough. It was cheaper for a captain to dump the bilge at sea than to go and offload it into a port in a legal manner. Callousness, carelessness and the cost was not an impediment to a captain doing that.
The Minister of the Environment said that we had to make it so that the captains of these ships must stop. When operating a tanker or freighter the size that those ships are, we have to realize the fine of $15,000, $16,000 or $20,000 is not a lot of money.
The minister has increased the fines to make it so these people will not be able to do this anymore. The penalties that will be in place will certainly be a major impediment. When those captains have to pay a fine of $1 million, they will think twice about turning on that switch and dumping their bilges at sea.
There were questions raised in the House this morning by the Conservative member for Fraser Valley about this getting through the House in the next few days or in the very near future. All sides of the House support the legislation. I am very pleased as a Canadian and as a native of Newfoundland and Labrador to stand in the House with the total cooperation of all parties to get this legislation passed.
I want to say to the opposition members from all parties that yes, this can pass. With the cooperation of everybody, there is absolutely no reason why this cannot have speedy passage through the House. This is good news for all Canadians. This is a situation where all parties are putting partisan politics aside and working for the best interest of our environment.
We live in the greatest country in the whole world, bar none. I often say it many times and I suspect people from other provinces will also say that they live in the greatest part of Canada. Being from Newfoundland and Labrador, while we live in the greatest country in the whole world, I have to say I live in the greatest part of Canada.
I say that with a lot of pride because we are a large island. Newfoundland and Labrador is four times larger than Japan which has 125 million people. We have 510,000 people in all of Newfoundland and Labrador. We have a very pristine environment. The people of those communities protect their environment. The people of those communities do not do anything to destroy their environment. They are very careful over the land, over the beaches and over the ocean. They will not stand by while people from other countries come across our oceans and continuously dump waste and destroy our environment.
What is happening in the House today, with the Minister of the Environment having tabled the legislation, gives the people of eastern Canada, the people of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, confidence that this government cares about the environment, about Newfoundland and Labrador and about eastern Canada.
We are taking the necessary steps to ensure that the environment will be protected for the future of the people living in the communities. I am compelled to say that as one member of the House of Commons, and with cooperation on all sides of the House, we have made the right decision and are moving forward to protect our future that we must leave to our children and our grandchildren.