Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to take a tour of the beautiful riding of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine. You will be warmly welcomed by the good people there, who will certainly be able to talk to you about the Coast Guard or anything related to maritime life.
I am sharing my time with the hon. member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière.
I am pleased to speak to the bill to amend the Canada Shipping Act, the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act and the Oceans Act. It is a long title, but at closer glance, it appears that the change, as the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan was saying earlier, is purely cosmetic.
Everyone at the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans agreed that the basic problem is the chronic underfunding of the Canadian Coast Guard. It has been the topic of many speeches over the past few years. It has also affected different ridings in different ways. In the riding of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine in particular, Coast Guard services were reduced as a result of decreased funding over the years.
In my remarks, I would like to go over a number of recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. It is worthwhile to recall certain parts of this committee report which will help to better understand the situation. Recommendation 9 in particular provides:
That a renewed Canadian Coast Guard be established as anindependent civilian federal agency.
The bill before us does not do that at all. That is why it is important to look at the overall issue in order to improve the situation and have better, efficient service.
In addition, the Coast Guard should be governed by a new Canadian Coast Guard Act that would set out a number of its responsibilities, which is not the case right now. These include search and rescue, and emergency environmental response. Goodness knows, situations can happen that call for an emergency response.
I will also address the Coast Guard's lead role among the several federal departments involved inmarine pollution prevention. To increase the effectiveness of its mandate, the responsibilities of the Coast Guard could include a formal mandate in national security with respect to Canada’s coasts, including the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. There is more.
Full operational funding was recommended in response to many comments and historical situations experienced in the past that have made us realize that we are indeed facing a situation where the services provided by the Canadian Coast Guard are not adequate. We could look at various aspects. We could look at the fleet, for example, that is to say what the Coast Guard has to operate and to carry out its mandate.
With respect to the fleet, in recent years, the Coast Guard has found itself in a situation where it did not have sufficient funding to effectively carry out its mandate. That is one aspect; sadly, there are others.
I say sadly because, when we look at the underfunding of the Coast Guard, we can see that, where maritime service is concerned, we can find ourselves facing unusual situations such as those experienced in recent years.
Such a situation occurred in an area of my riding, the Magdalen Islands, where we had to put up a fight. Residents of the Magdalen Islands took to the streets or, rather, the Cap-aux-Meules wharf, to send a strong message to the effect that the government should absolutely not make new cuts in Coast Guard services, under the pretext that it would save a few thousand dollars, because it would then completely abdicate one of its primary responsibilities, namely marine security.
As members know, the Magdalen Islands are located 250 kilometres off the Gaspé Peninsula. Being out at sea, they are quite isolated. The services provided by the Coast Guard go far beyond the notion of services: they are a matter of security. The Magdalen Islands have a seafaring tradition, which means that people use boats a lot to give a little boost to the local economy. If the Coast Guard decides that it wants to save a few thousand dollars, the result could be that, instead of relying on the Coast Guard to provide effective and quick service in case of an emergency, a distressed ship may have to wait for help coming from much further away.
As we know, travelling at sea is not like travelling in the air. Speed is calculated in knots, not in hundreds or thousands of kilometres per hour. The speed of ships is calculated in knots. In this context, the notion of Coast Guard services takes on its full meaning. Fiddling with the figures—this is the expression that comes to mind—to save some money may jeopardize the safety of seamen who are trying to make an honest living. These people do not want to be faced with catastrophic situations that could put their lives at risk.
Unfortunately, this is what has been happening in recent years. We witnessed more than mere threats; the Coast Guard's budget was actually cut, with the result that it had less money to provide its services.
The Coast Guard has a very important mandate. This is why it is absolutely critical that we not make mere cosmetic changes, to paraphrase the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan. Rather, we should take this opportunity to massively invest new money. This would not improve the situation, but at least we would be able to deal with it.
In this case, as I also had the opportunity to do during the election campaign, we could talk about the defence issue. We know very well that, when we talk about the defence issue, we talk a lot about being a little on the defensive, which is somehow apt. However, we are not talking about development.
Concerning the Coast Guard, we must not only be on the defensive and demonstrate, as the people from the Magdalen Islands have done on the wharf in recent years. These people want to go out on the wharf of Cap-aux-Meules, but not necessarily to demonstrate.
In this sense, we found ourselves in a tough spot, with many defence issues such as this one, instead of talking about development. Development means improvement. It also means being able to face changes. There are many changes. It may be quite difficult sometimes to face situations where we should ensure that sailors in trouble receive help.
This also brings me to the famous unanimous report. I come back to the concept of unanimous, because it is important. Indeed, we realize that Liberal colleagues, at the time, and I hope they will not deny what happened at the time—