Mr. Speaker, I am not sure whether I understood correctly or not, but I think my colleague is saying that the Conservative government is concerned about the cost to businesses of certain regulations, but not about environmental, social or other safety related costs, including the safety of francophones, of the land, Fisheries and Oceans, the Coast Guard and all that. It is a little disconcerting to hear this discourse.
I am also here to speak to 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. Admittedly the proposed legislation provides for modest improvements to marine safety. During the first session of this Parliament, the NDP suggested that the government broaden the scope of this bill. Our party is prepared to make real changes with a view to protecting our coastlines. The Conservatives, however, rejected our suggestion. That is unfortunate, but it seems the opposition’s opinion matters little to the Conservatives.
Sadly the only legislators who are responsible and concerned about the safety of Canadians are sitting on this side of the House. They are not seated on the government benches, and if there are any such individuals, they are generally muzzled, and by whom? By the Conservative Party financiers.
I want to focus primarily on Part 5 of the bill which has five main components. Part 5 amends the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. It enacts new requirements respecting oil handling facilities, including the requirement on the part of the operator of such a facility to notify and submit plans of the proposed operations to the minister.
The NDP is committed to putting an end to oil spills along our coastlines. We are prepared to make that commitment, unlike the Conservatives who fail to enforce the necessary regulations to prevent spills of this nature. Judging from the Conservatives’ record, it is becoming increasingly difficult to believe that they take Canadians’ concerns seriously. They have no credibility whatsoever when it comes to marine and aviation safety. Furthermore, their policies are contradictory.
On the one hand, they are shutting down the Coast Guard station in Kitsilano and cutting environmental emergency response programs, while on the other hand, they are demanding more of the marine transportation system. It is all well and good for them to expand requirements, but they also need to assume their responsibilities.
I would like to remind this House that the Conservatives closed the St. John’s maritime centre and they still want to shut down the Quebec City marine rescue sub-centre, the one and only bilingual centre in all of Canada. We must not forget the closing of the maritime radio stations across the country. I am thinking of the maritime radio station in Rivière-au-Renard, which is an excellent example.
Bill C-3 is a barely concealed attempt to offset past inaction and the Conservatives’ cuts to maritime safety. The measures set out in Bill C-3 to improve safety are relatively feeble considering the risks that exist because of all these closures. With all its tributaries, the St. Lawrence estuary is one of the most dangerous in the world and furthermore much of the marine traffic is French-speaking. Right now, traffic on the St. Lawrence is increasing, but services are decreasing. Before now, a number of different call centres knew the territory, and they are gradually being closed down. The government is even threatening to close the Quebec City centre. If that ever happened, there would certainly be deaths. The government that made that decision would be accountable.
The U.S. Coast Guard is studying the effects of the higher number of oil tankers on the west coast and their larger size, given the fact that the increased traffic increases the risk of an oil spill. The United States is taking these risks seriously, while the Minister of Natural Resources is taking the opposite tack, saying that everything is safe, despite the expected increases in oil tanker traffic.
“A supertanker oil spill near our shores would threaten [the] coastal economy and thousands of jobs,” said U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell.
The NDP members hope that Bill C-3 would really increase safety in oil tanker traffic. The Conservative government should have taken the opportunity to cancel the cuts in the most recent budgets—we remember them—as well as the marine security program closures.
Some of the measures that the NDP wants to see in a bill that aims at protecting Canada’s waters include the following.
First, the government must cancel the closures and cuts to Coast Guard services, including the Kitsilano Coast Guard station.
Second, the government must cancel the cuts to marine communications and traffic services, including the maritime traffic control communications terminals in Vancouver and St. John’s.
Third, the government must cancel the closure of the British Columbia regional office for oil spill emergencies.
Fourth, the government must cancel the cuts to the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research.
Fifth, the government must cancel cuts to the principal environmental emergency programs, including in the event of oil spills in Newfoundland and British Columbia.
Sixth, we must strengthen the capacity—which is currently non-existent—of petroleum boards to deal with oil spills, as recommended by the Commissioner of the Environment. The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board needs to acquire the internal expertise to manage a major spill with an independent safety regulator.
Seventh, the Canadian Coast Guard must be required to work with its American counterparts. Studies have already been conducted in the United States. We could work with the Americans to see what must be done, what regulations are required and how to make the structure of our supertankers as secure as possible. The Coast Guard therefore needs to conduct a parallel study with its American counterparts to examine the risks associated with additional oil tanker traffic through Canadian waters.
Rather than implementing half measures when it comes to responding to and monitoring oil spills as proposed in this bill, an assessment must be done of the national ship-source oil pollution fund, which has not been used in a long time.
For 40 years, oil tankers were prohibited from travelling along the coast of British Columbia. This moratorium was imposed as a result of a verbal agreement with British Columbia. Nothing was put in writing. The NDP's call for a ban on oil tanker traffic through this corridor has the support of first nations communities; local and regional elected officials; the tourism, leisure and fishing industries; other industries that may be affected; and over 75% of British Columbians.
I would like to add one thing about all of our demands. The first nations are concerned about all this deregulation and the cuts to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Coast Guard. Tourism industries, particularly Quebec's Gaspé and North Shore regions and all of the maritime provinces that make a living from this industry, are concerned about the impact that an oil spill in the St. Lawrence gulf and estuary would have. Given all the currents and the unique nature of this gulf and estuary, an oil spill would be a major catastrophe. It would quickly spread to all the gulf's ecosystems, which would harm the fishing and tourism industries, as well as the entire economy of these regions.
It is therefore important to carefully think this through. Before going down this road, the Conservatives should think about what could happen in order to prevent deaths and a great deal of environmental damage in my region.