Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address a bill that has several significant parts, a bill the official opposition will be supporting to study at committee. It has the electrifying title of 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. While that might not seem all that gripping a title, the actual impacts and effects of the bill are significant and do mean something, particularly to the people I represent in northwestern British Columbia. Very specifically, these are the aspects around oil tanker traffic.
In northern British Columbia, a company out of Calgary called Enbridge is proposing the northern gateway pipeline. It is a pipeline that would stretch 1,100 kilometres from Alberta to B.C.'s coast at Kitimat. The company then proposes to put it into supertankers that would run the inside passage out Douglas Channel, make three hairpin turns on their way out to the open ocean, and then go on to, one presumes, China and the rest of Asia.
I specifically note China in this proposal, simply because the Chinese government has funded a large sum of the $100 million Enbridge has been using to promote its project. It is not an equity stake. It is just money given by the state-owned oil enterprise in China to promote a Canadian pipeline project. One wonders what the motivations are for companies, especially those state-owned by the Chinese government, to offer it up. It may be an administration that some admire, but others of us have some questions for it.
It seems to me that the aspect of this project that is worrisome to many of the people I represent, and this has been going on for a number of years, is the complete lack of social licence the company has been able to attain. That is, in part, aided, if I may use that term for such a scenario, by the Minister of Natural Resources, who has suggested that anyone who has concerns or questions about this project must be, in his words, a radical and a foreign-funded enemy of the state.
For a federal minister and a government to use such heated, overblown rhetoric, such offensive and abusive language, is obviously a desperate attempt to try to push a project that has failed time and time again to gain the social licence of the people who are along the route. It demonstrates a government that simply sees the Canadians who live along the proposed pipeline route, or who may be impacted by an oil spill from the supertankers implicated by the project, as simply in the way. They are seen not as citizens, not as people in the communities taking the most risk, but as a bothersome quotient for the government to simply bully and have removed.
Bill C-3 has some aspects that we, in the small measures that are made here, support. They deal particularly with liability for oil spills. The liability regime in Canada to this point has been incredibly weak. It is much weaker than the regime that exists in the United States and certainly is dramatically weaker than that which exists in Europe and many of our other trading partners.
If we look at the oil tanker accidents around the world, proving causal liability is one of the more difficult levels to attain in a court of law. Even when that is done, under Canadian law as it exists right now, the amount of damages the company is on the hook for is minimal.
The Canadian taxpayer is meant to pay the rest, and not just for the costs incurred in the actual emergency in deploying of the Coast Guard and other emergency services. For the eventual damages that would be awarded or given to the public, the companies are still restricted in their liability exposure. Who picks up the rest of the damages for the impact on fishing communities and other economies that are trying to exist? Never mind just the economic impact. There are the straight up environmental impacts. We see even in this bill an extension of the liability, but certainly nothing that would move toward full responsibility.
The companies themselves, Enbridge and others, which ship oil, have declared, perhaps to their credit, that they cannot guarantee that there will not be spills. The reason they cannot is that they have spilled so many times in the past.
There was a relatively recent incident in Michigan, near where your home riding is, Mr. Speaker, in Kalamazoo River, in which bitumen being shipped by Enbridge leaked out of a pipe. The Environmental Protection Agency in the United States, which conducted the review afterward, showed that the company was “the Keystone Kops”. The spill had been noted and the emergency lights went off in Calgary. They were shut down on three separate occasions while the spill into this river continued to exist. It is a relatively small river, by British Columbia standards, and it is very slow-moving and warm, conditions that would be more ideal, if there is such a thing in terms of cleaning up an oil spill. Still, the company desperately struggled to attain anything close to a cleanup.
We now know from British Columbia's assessment and from the Auditor General of Canada, concerning the ability to clean up oil in the marine environment, that success would be deemed somewhere around the 5% rate. If there were a major oil spill, the company's expectations and those of the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia for the amount of oil that would actually be recovered would be about 5% at best, because of the conditions that exist on B.C.'s north coast. It is recognized by anyone who has ever lived there or visited that we have a somewhat precarious set of environments in which it is difficult to gather back oil, particularly bitumen, which is the notion of many of the projects that the Conservative government is promoting.
This is the government's Wild West energy plan: to ship as much raw bitumen and material out of the oil sands as is humanly possible, thereby forgoing all of the economic benefits that would come with actually upgrading the oil, at least to a state where it would look like a more conventional oil that we have traditionally seen, and then upgrading again and refining that oil into products that consumers would actually use. These would be gas, diesel, and the rest of the products that come out of a refinery.
The challenge for us is that, on the environmental front, the Conservative government has been an obvious failure. The meetings going on right now in Poland with respect to climate change have Canada ahead of such environmental luminaries as Saudi Arabia, Iran and a third country, which escapes me. We are down in the pariah list when it comes to dealing with the impacts of carbon. There are very few behind us, and there are many, much poorer, countries ahead of us that are doing more to deal with climate change than the Conservative government has.
The government has completely abandoned even its own weakened targets, which is amazing. The Prime Minister's Office has to prepare better speaking notes for the new Minister of the Environment because on her way to Poland to these UN climate talks, she said that Canada is a leading voice for climate change and that it is doing its job. However, Environment Canada now says we will miss by a mile even the weak and very watered down targets that the government has set for Canada. We will be way above even those weak commitments we made to the global community.
With the increase in intensity of storms and natural disasters that are hitting, we know that these costs are real. We know the impacts of climate change that were predicted by climate scientists. We have said time and time again that we would see more dangerous impacts and more dangerous effects. We have yet to properly deal with and realize the impacts of a rising sea in the world and the impacts on those coastal communities on the Vancouver Lower Mainland, on our east coast and in the far north.
We know that these impacts are real and we know that these impacts are expensive. These impacts are destabilizing, and we have a government that refuses to even follow its own weak targets and projections. It then says to the industry and to the broader Canadian public that Canada is doing its part. That is hogwash. The government knows it. No one believes its spin. The fact is that it is more dangerous than just the typical lies and half truths we get from government, because this one has real generational impact.
On this particular bill, the government has gone to some half measures. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster attempted to expand the scope, because if we want to deal with certainty and the public interest when it comes to shipping oil or raw bitumen through tankers, we need to deal with the full scale of interests, bring liability rates up to the proper level that would be even a medium global standard and deal with the impacts of the cuts that the same government has made to our ability to deal with oil spills: the cuts to the Canadian Coast Guard; the shutting down of the Kitsilano base; the shutting down of the oil spill response centre in British Columbia.
Here is an ironic moment. We have a government that is out shelling for industry, pushing every pipeline it can find and saying we are going to have the best standards in the world, yet at the same time presenting a budget that we vote against, which shuts down the B.C. oil spill response centre, the very thing that is meant to reassure the public in the event of an accident, which is somewhat inevitable in the oil industry. The very centre that is charged with dealing with an oil spill response is the very centre that these guys thought they should shut down, and then say to the public, “Never mind, never worry”. It is a fact that the public paid attention to.
There was the shutting down of the Kitsilano Coast Guard base, one of the busiest in the country, thereby increasing dramatically the response times for people in distress on the water when accidents occur. We have very heavy traffic around Vancouver, not just with tankers and cargo ships but with ferries and personal pleasure craft. However, with an increasingly busy marine environment, these guys said that shutting down the Coast Guard base was a good idea. Meanwhile, they have billions and billions to spend on pet projects and tax incentives, which do not work, for companies that are already in the massive profit range, so taken in full, it is no wonder that Canadians, particularly British Columbians, have lost complete faith in the current government's intention or its ability to deal with the impacts of heavy industry development.
The Conservatives have proposed their pipelines and they insult any Canadian who happens to have questions or concerns, which I think are natural. As Canadians, it is not only our right but our duty to hold government to account, which is what New Democrats do here as the official opposition to the government each and every day.
When we talk about defending our coasts, we are actually talking about defending Canadian values, such as the right to speech without being bullied by government and ministers of the crown and the right of first nation people to be duly consulted and accommodated, but the Conservative government treats that as an afterthought. When did constitutional requirements become an afterthought for the federal government of Canada?
First nations have had to go to court time and time again. There are various cases, many of them emanating from the first nations of northern British Columbia, such as the Haida case, the Delgamuukw case with the Wet’suwet’en and the Gitksan and many other cases that followed, to prove what we all know: first nations have rights and title to the land.
However, when it comes to the tanker traffic and the pipelines that are proposed, first nations are treated as if they were some sort of “special interest group”, as the current government calls them. They are not a special interest group. They are a group that is at the heart of this conversation, but they are treated with such disrespect.
The other day, I asked a first nation leader what specific things the federal government could do to help first nation communities across Canada. He asked me to please ask the Conservatives to stop suing them, because it is costing them millions upon millions of dollars in litigation to prove something that has been proven time and time again: that there is a duty owed to the first nations by the federal government to consult and accommodate. That is not up for debate. It is not up for some token that can be traded back and forth.
The government whip, who represents Vancouver Island North and deals with many first nations across Vancouver Island, knows that these responsibilities cannot simply be dismissed; or because there is some industrial imperative or some oil lobby that the government is cozying up to, it pushes those rights and titles out of the way. That is a fallacy and, ironically enough, it creates an enormous amount of uncertainty for the oil and gas sector, the industry to which the government spends so much of its time pandering.
The same Conservative government has sowed the seeds of doubt with the Canadian public by stripping away basic environmental protections, like the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The Environmental Assessment Act has been weakened. Previously, the federal government enacted somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 environmental assessments a year. The Auditor General of Canada now tells us that those assessments will be reduced down to between 12 and 15 per year, under the Conservative government's stripping away of protections.
The Fisheries Act has been completely gutted. It was one of our foundational acts to protect what was considered an important economic generator for the country, as this habitat can be impacted by industrial development. The fish habitat was important to maintain our fisheries. There was no more important act in the Canadian law and jurisprudence, because it had been relied upon time and time again to hold industry to some level of account and make sure the projects it built did not leave massive legacies.
Last year, as my friend for Yukon would know, we Canadian taxpayers spent somewhere in the order of $150 million to clean up old abandoned orphaned mines that were leaking into the environment. That was $150 million just last year for no noticeable economic benefit. We had legislation in place at the time those mines were built, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, that did not properly protect the environment; so we have learned that if we have the wrong guidelines for industry, most of industry will attempt to hold things to a higher standard than the government calls for, but some will not. Some will cut corners.
If a government allows them to do it, as the government does, the legacies will last for generations to come. The acid leaching of some of these mines is incredibly damaging to things we care about, like drinking water, like fisheries. We have a government that refuses to remember the lessons that were so hard learned and continue to be so expensive.
We come to this bill, Bill C-3, which is a small attempt of the government. We can see how much interest the government has in speaking to this bill. In the last Parliament, before the government killed the legislation, it had one speaker at second reading and made a few passing comments, and that was it. This is supposed to be a priority for the government. It makes no argument, no support for the legislation.
I do not know if there are going to be government speakers today. I look forward to hearing what Conservatives actually think and maybe to hearing it address some of the concerns of Canadians that exist regarding the legislation: that the scope is so narrow that it does not expand a full and proper liability; that it does not address all the other aspects of shipping oil by water, which exist and are realities and create uncertainty for industry.
If the public does not have confidence in the process, which it does not with the government running the show, then how will industry gain that social licence it so desperately needs, to actually create those jobs that the government is so keen to talk about?
We are all for promoting the resource sector. We have to do it under guidelines that promote the very best, not encourage the very worst. We see the government, time and time again, stripping away environmental protections, dismissing first nations' obligations, not holding and creating proper liability regimes; so that this creates no certainty for industry. This creates no confidence among the public.
Coming from a resource part of the world, I deal with many industries, which seek this social licence and community support for their projects. Their investors seek that same support. This has bottom-line impacts. Ask Enbridge how it is going, with the fake ads about shipping oil and how incredibly safe it is, when we know the facts are otherwise. The Conservatives simply cannot outspend the public will or cover over a bunch of lies with a bunch of ads in between hockey games and pretend that will somehow gain the social licence and support.
Enbridge has a partner in the government, which continually lowers the bar, waters down what few regulations we have to protect the environment, and then pretends we still have world-class standards. How can that be true? The government members will repeat it today, if they bother to speak at all, and say we have world-class standards. If they just spent the last six or seven years destroying aspects of environmental legislation, watering down and gutting the Fisheries Act, cutting Coast Guard funding, cutting funding to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, removing things and protections that Canadians relied upon, they still cannot have world-class, leading standards. That is simply not true.
Conservatives cannot have it both ways. If they cut all those protections for Canadians, then clearly they have not maintained any sense of having the basic understanding of what it is to develop industry.
Industry needs a couple of things. It needs a fair set of rules. It needs consistent application of those rules. It needs an investment climate that allows for investors to feel confidence in these major investments, because none of these projects that are entertained in this kind of bill are small. They start at a few billion dollars and go up from there, and they last a certain amount of time.
The Enbridge northern gateway predicts it would be around for 45 or 50 years, give or take. Under that regime, it would also have about 12,000 supertanker sailings through some of the more treacherous waters known around the world. There would be 12,000 sailings with weak protection and minimal ability to clean up in the event of a spill, as has been reported by the federal Auditor General and has been reported by a study by the British Columbia government. These are not the wild-eyed, wide-eyed environmentalists that Conservatives always like to point at.
We know for a fact that, time and time again, the government in its pandering to one small interest group, the oil sector, has actually weakened the argument for the oil sector's ability to actually promote projects. It has weakened the ability of industry to have the confidence of the Canadian public, which it needs to build the projects it wishes to build.
Why not take a step back for a moment and listen to some of the critics rather than trying to insult and bully them? Why not step back for a moment and develop a national strategy for our energy, as the Premier of Alberta and many other premiers across the country have asked for?
Industry has asked for it and the Canadian public has asked for it, yet the government sits on its hands and pretends that photo ops and spin are going to get the job done, along with bills that go only halfway. New Democrats will support the bill and try to improve the bill. We will allow Parliament to do its work and hear from witnesses and experts who know a lot more about this than anybody sitting over there.
Again, the government has a missed opportunity. It could do so much more both for industry and the public, and a failure on the government's part will do nothing for the Canadian economy and certainly nothing for the Canadian environment.
Ms. Christine Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-3.
First, I would like to note that we will support the bill at second reading, but not very enthusiastically. The bill contains slight improvements in marine safety, but the government could have done much better.
I am going to take time to read the title of the bill because I believe it will help people understand: 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.
Many people will realize in reading its title that the bill is probably more than two pages long. It obviously addresses many points, and its approach is designed to achieve safety. If we are starting in on a bill that will amend several acts, it is worth expanding its scope to ensure we cover everything.
When you conduct a study, you may realize later on that you could have added a part. That is not efficient. It is important for us to bear that in mind as we begin a study as broad as this one on aviation and marine safety.
That moreover is the reason why the NDP proposed to expand the bill to include more specific measures that would protect Canada's coastlines, for example, and that would neutralize or reverse Conservative cuts and closures associated with marine safety and environmental protection.
I think when we are doing a big study like that, when we have a bill that concerns different laws, we have the responsibility to do the study really seriously and to try to extend the study to every measure that might be concerned. That is why the NDP has proposed to do a good study on the bill that would cover all the files. Unfortunately, the Conservatives say yes and then no.
When we want to try to have a really good study, it is very disappointing when the Conservatives have this attitude and say, “No. This is our bill, and it is what we are studying.” The NDP is really concerned to improve the law. It is not a question of partisanship; it is a question of improving Canadian law, and the Conservatives refuse to do it.
Let me briefly explain the various acts affected by Bill C-3.
Part 1 enacts the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act. In practical terms, this will authorize the Department of Transport to undertake to indemnify certain airlines for loss, damage or liability caused by war risks. We agree that these are not frequent occurrences.
However, if an airline’s aircraft are damaged in a sudden and unexpected war, the Department of Transport will be able to indemnify it. I do not believe this measure will be used very often, but it appears in the bill.
Part 2 concerns the Aeronautics Act. It will enable certain persons to investigate aviation accidents or incidents involving civilians and aircraft or aeronautical installations operated by or on behalf of the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces or a visiting force.
I see this may be useful, particularly in the event of an incident involving visiting forces. For example, it might be more difficult for Canadians to investigate an incident affecting visiting forces, considering the different cultures involved. People might be less responsive.
The fact that the parties co-operate could therefore be useful in some instances. If there is a language barrier, for example, they will be able to give us more information. Questions arise in my mind. Will those people be required to issue a public report on their investigation, as is the case when the Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigates? Some questions have to be asked, and it will be worthwhile exploring them in committee.
Part 3 amends the Canada Marine Act respecting the effective date of the appointment of a director of a port authority. I believe the first three parts are the ones involving the fewest problems. However, it seems to me that parts 4 and 5 raise more questions. I will bear them in mind as I listen carefully and read the committee proceedings so that I can then take a position and decide what I think the NDP should do when this bill reaches third reading. That is why I sincerely hope the Conservatives will be receptive in committee and prepared to really discuss marine safety, for example, when the committee begins its study.
Part 4 amends the Marine Liability Act to implement the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea, 2010. This deals with liability in the event of a spill, for example, and provides that a ship's owner is liable for the costs and expenses incurred by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans if it has to intervene or by another response organization that might have been designated by the department. It also confers powers, duties and functions on the administrator of the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund.
One question is not specifically addressed in the legislation, but it will be interesting to discuss it in committee, even though it falls under another heading, and that is the question of insurance coverage. As we unfortunately saw at the time of the Lac-Mégantic incident, people realized that MMA did not have enough insurance coverage to pay the costs of the accident. I therefore hope the committee will be studying that question as well.
If these people are responsible for paying, adequate insurance coverage must be available. Consequently, a fairly accurate valuation of what a major incident might cost must unfortunately be made. This is essential so that we can be sure that these people have adequate insurance coverage and that no companies will be unable to pay. If that were to happen, spills might continue spreading as no one would take action because no one would know how the bill would be paid. This is a very important question that should be discussed in committee.
Part 5 amends the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and introduces new requirements for operators of oil handling facilities, including the requirement to notify the minister of their operations and to submit plans to the minister. There are a number of parties involved. In this part of the legislation, however, I hope the persons responsible will be compelled to provide an accurate chemical description of the oil being transported. We have realized that the action taken sometimes differs somewhat depending on the type of oil or oil products that may be transported. I hope that will be part of the discussion in committee.
A new requirement in this bill will also compel operators of oil handling facilities to submit their emergency plans to the minister. I hope and trust that if they have an emergency plan, it means they have also consulted local coastal communities. I hope that there will be co-operation and that they will make sure local people who could possibly help them are familiar with how they can respond, and what they can do. I hope they are also trained. This is a question, once again, that will have to be considered in committee.
There is also a question of civil and criminal immunity for organizations involved in response operations. I wonder whether it is really immunity that applies in all cases, or whether it applies in cases where people have acted to the full extent of their knowledge and skill? For example, if a response agency is cutting a lot of corners, will it possibly be covered by such immunity? I believe it would be important to clarify this, because it could give members a better understanding of the bill.
I will now discuss the application of the new enforcement measures and monetary penalties. They also grant new investigative powers to Transport Canada investigators. I believe that when it is a question of monetary penalties, among other things, it is important to give careful consideration to the amount. Is the amount sufficiently large to have a real deterrent effect? If the amount is not sufficient, people will take risks regardless. I believe it is very important to take the time to consider what monetary penalties are appropriate and will actually achieve the desired result.
One aspect of the bill that should be noted is that there may be some lack of credibility on the part of the Conservatives, particularly with respect to marine safety, aviation safety and their policies in those areas. In some budgets, there have been significant cuts in the area of safety. A marine safety bill has now been introduced. Perhaps the Conservatives would not have lost so much credibility if they had not cut so much in the area of safety.
The member seated near me made a good defence of the Quebec City search and rescue centre, which is essential. The Conservative government has closed the only French-language marine rescue centre in the country. The centre is responsible for rapid action in the case of distress at sea. All at once, the Conservative government wants us to rely on it in matters of marine safety, when it has placed people’s lives in danger. There are people who were able to respond in an emergency. In my opinion, we should be wondering whether response staff will be increased to ensure safety. For example, will there be people able to respond in both official languages and understand people when marine accidents or spills occur? These are questions we have to ask ourselves.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives did not help when they made cuts in the area of marine safety. They also eliminated the positions of people with practical local knowledge. I have seen this regularly. People often use very local expressions when speaking of their location. If the person concerned is not familiar with the waterways, minutes and even hours will go by before there is a response. In the case of a spill, the longer it takes to respond, the bigger the spill will be. I therefore feel there is a real danger.
So far, unfortunately, the Conservatives have failed to impress me in the area of marine safety. I have genuine concerns about this, and I believe we should really make sure that the bill is complete. Unfortunately, if they refuse to expand the scope of the bill, we cannot be reassured and we cannot go as far as we would wish. We tell ourselves that, perhaps, we will have a bill, but eventually we will realize there is something it does not cover, and we will have to introduce another one. In the end, we will realize that the new bill does not cover everything, and another one will therefore be introduced. The process will extend over time, whereas we could have done the right thing, completed the work and made a serious and comprehensive study of marine safety.
It seems that is not the way the Conservatives like to operate, however. One could certainly say that logic is in short supply in their application of proposed legislation.
There is another aspect that is worth looking into. The Coast Guard is very much involved in marine safety. Our defence critic recently put questions to the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Public Works. He asked what had become of the shipbuilding program, because people who recently assessed the program had said that the money allocated to the program would very likely be insufficient to complete it. Naturally, vessels used by National Defence will also be used by the Coast Guard. If we are already short of ships to provide marine safety, I believe there is a serious problem, particularly considering the fairly substantial increase not only in the number of vessels plying our waterways, but also in their size and the potential dangers of a spill.
If the government were really serious about marine safety, it could have taken many other measures. For example, it could have cancelled the Coast Guard closure and service reductions like that in Kitsilano, British Columbia. It could have cancelled the reductions in marine traffic communication services, such as the Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre in St. John's. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of Canada’s geography can understand that these are two crucial points with respect to marine safety in this country, on the east coast and the west coast. Given current traffic, these two service centres should not only maintain their capacity, they should also be able to increase it. At this time, that is not the case, and their services are in fact being reduced.
It is also important to require the Canadian Coast Guard to work with its U.S. counterparts and conduct a parallel study to examine the risks resulting from additional tanker traffic in Canadian waters. Of course, ships do not simply remain in Canadian waters. They move. That is why it is particularly important to conduct joint studies. We also need to be able to talk to our American counterparts about involving them in response plans. If, unfortunately, a ship has an accident at the edge of Canadian and American waters, we need to be able to respond efficiently as a team and know exactly who is fulfilling what role.
I would like to point out that the NDP's goal is to never have a spill occur. However, given all the Conservative cuts to marine safety, I feel our concerns are legitimate. We would like to know for certain what direction marine safety is headed in. We would like to know who will respond if there is a spill, how quickly they will respond, the target timetables and what our capacity is for controlling a minor or major spill. According to experts, we currently do not have the capacity for containing a major spill. The ships are so large that we do not have what it takes to respond.
I find that extremely worrisome. In committee, we will be able to look at these points more closely and ask questions. I hope that the Conservative government will be truly open to improving Canada's marine and aviation safety, for the benefit of all Canadians.
Mr. Pierre-Luc Dusseault (Sherbrooke, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, at this point, I should inform you that I will share my time with the member for Edmonton—Strathcona, who will take over for me.
First, I would like to provide some context for Bill C-3. My colleagues have already discussed it a bit this morning, but I think that, as the member for Sherbrooke, it is important for me to speak to this bill and inform the House about the concerns of my constituents. I do not represent a coastal riding, but my riding is close enough to the east coast of Canada and the U.S. that these issues are important to my constituents. In fact, anything that has to do with the environment affects the people of Sherbrooke. I am pleased to speak to Bill C-3 here on their behalf.
As hon. members know, this bill was introduced during the last session, that is, during the first session of the 41st Parliament. At that time it was Bill C-57. Since we already had the opportunity to study it during the last session of Parliament, this bill is somewhat familiar to us. My colleagues already know that we will support this bill at second reading.
I would also like to remind the House that we tried to broaden the scope of the bill, and I will say more about that later because I have not yet explained exactly what the bill is about. Our attempts to broaden the scope of the bill were fruitless. Now that Bill C-3 is before us, we are trying again; we are speaking up. We hope that our attempts to improve it will be successful so that we can support it all the way through the process. Between now and then, we would like to send the bill to committee for a thorough review to ensure that it meets our constituents' expectations.
This bill amends five acts and has four main parts. I will focus on the last parts.
Part 1 would indemnify certain air carriers for loss, damage or liability caused by war risks. I am not really sure where this legislative change comes from, but if there is a crisis or a war, the government would compensate air carriers for damage caused by illegal attacks, such as armed conflict, rebellion or hijacking. I will not go into any detail about that part.
Part 2 is about air transportation and amends the Aeronautics Act to provide certain persons with powers to investigate aviation accidents or incidents involving civilians and aircraft or aeronautical installations operated by or on behalf of the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces or a visiting force. This is interesting, actually. We would like to talk about an issue in this part of the bill. I think that this issue will come up in committee when we take a closer look at the bill.
Right now, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada is responsible for investigating aeronautical accidents involving the armed forces. According to this bill, the armed forces would take over that function. A military investigator would be responsible for that and would have to report to the Minister of National Defence. We would like to know if those reports will be made public.
Currently, reports produced by the TSB are made public. In recent months, unfortunately I must say, we have come to learn a great deal more about the TSB. It really is not clear from the bill whether the reports produced by the Department of National Defence investigator will be made public. Obviously, these questions will be raised later in committee. I simply wanted to point out that we have some reservations about part 2 of the bill.
Part 3 does not call for any major amendment. It pertains to the appointment of port authority directors. The appointments would take effect on the day on which notice of appointment is received by the port authority. I will not elaborate further on this part of the bill.
This brings me to the two main parts of the bill that are of great concern to us and that we find especially important, specifically the amendment to the Marine Liability Act. The bill provides for the coming into force of the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea, 2010, pursuant to an international convention concluded in 2010.
This part covers the costs and expenses incurred by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans when a spill occurs. The company responsible for the spill must have adequate insurance in place to cover the financial cost of the cleanup. It is important to understand that tanker traffic continues to increase. Traffic has increased in recent years and is on track to quadruple by 2016. So then, given the rapid increase in tanker traffic, this is an especially important consideration today.
As tanker traffic increases so too do the attendant risks. The same holds true for highway traffic. The more automobiles and people travelling on our highways, the greater the risk of accidents happening. It is no different when it comes to oceans and waterways. Fortunately, accidents are not a daily occurrence, but when they do happen, the consequences can be quite devastating. We have a number of examples to draw on from around the world, whether it is ships that have spilled some of their cargo, or accidents occurring on offshore oil rigs. One recent example was the spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. I am sure everyone remembers the extensive damage done to coastlines. The damage does not last only a few weeks. We are still seeing the effects of the spill today. It has had a major impact on ocean ecosystems.
So then, it is important for companies that take the risk of transporting these products to be able to respond when an accident occurs. That is the least they can do. When a company is responsible for shipping oil products, it must be held liable when an accident linked to its activities occurs. The public or governments should not be held liable. By government we mean the public because the government operates on taxpayers’ money. In short, the government should not have to bear the full cost when an accident occurs. The companies should be the ones assuming the risks. Moreover, government authorities should put in place regulations to ensure that everything is in order, that inspections are carried out and that shipping companies abide by a minimum set of rules. Every single accident cannot, however, be prevented. That is impossible. So, when one does happen, companies must be able to take responsibility for the damage that they have caused.
This brings me to part 5 of the bill which amends inspection provisions in order to ensure that companies have plans in place in the event of an accident and that they submit them to the government so that authorities, whether local, provincial or federal, can respond immediately to an accident. These authorities would therefore already have the plans in hand and would be aware of the nature of the products being transported. It would therefore be much easier to respond quickly and effectively in such cases.
The bill is a step in the right direction. We support the small positive steps that are being taken. Therefore, we will be happy to support the bill at second reading. In committee, we will look at what can be done to continue moving in this direction.
As opposition members, our job is to suggest measures. That is what we will continue to do when the bill is examined in committee. We will try to improve upon its provisions, so that it is the best possible piece of legislation by the time it is adopted.
Ms. Linda Duncan:
Mr. Speaker, again, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to this bill. As my colleagues have pointed out, we are supporting sending the bill to committee. Our preference would have been that the bill go to committee before second reading. That would have provided, in the custom of the House, ample opportunity for amendments. There is a particular concern that the government is not open to amendments coming from the opposition.
In the interest of Canadian safety and in the interest of the public and the security of our three coasts, we certainly encourage the government to take seriously recommendations from witnesses, recommendations made by the opposition, and the amendments that we might put forward.
For the record, I would like to share with the House a number of the measures that the New Democrats have called for to ensure the safeguarding of Canada's seas and coastlines. They include: reversing the cuts to the Coast Guard; the closure of Coast Guard stations; the scaling back of services; cancelling the cuts to the marine communications traffic service centres in Vancouver and St. John's; cancelling the closure of B.C.'s regional office for emergency oil spills responses; cancelling the cuts to Canada's offshore oil, gas and industry research centre; reversing the cuts to key environmental emergency programs, including oil spill response for Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia; reinforcing the capacity of petroleum boards to handle oil spills as recommended by the environment commissioner who reports to Parliament; and requiring the Canadian Coast Guard to work collaboratively with its U.S. counterparts.
Additional recommendations were made by the official opposition in response to what the communities were calling for with growing concerns about the potential for oil spills. Of course we have offshore oil activity on our eastern coast, and there have been proposals for offshore in British Columbia, thus far not moving forward. The biggest risk being posed is tanker traffic, if the government in its wisdom decides to support any of the recommendations by the National Energy Board for the shipping of raw bitumen and other products to the coast and shipping by tanker.
I would like to bring to the attention of the House the experience I had in the past when I was the chief of enforcement for Environment Canada. I became the chief in the wake of a very serious aeronautics accident in northern Alberta, which tragically killed a number of people, including the then leader of the Alberta New Democrats, Grant Notley.
To its credit, the then government, the Mulroney government, brought together a team in treasury board and justice personnel to take a look at Crown liability and to make clear, to all of the federal regulatory authorities, their responsibilities and liabilities where they failed to adequately inspect and enforce federal laws.
It is a deep concern to me that the government in its wisdom has not seen fit to table an enforcement and compliance policy and strategy, coupled with this legislation. If it is in fact sincere about improving our capacity to reduce the risks of spills and the capability to respond, I would certainly encourage the government to step up to the plate and do so.
Of equal concern is the fact that I understand it has appointed a three-person panel to look into marine safety. The wise thing would have been to wait until the recommendations came from that panel before tabling a bill. One would presume that it will come forward with useful recommendations.
I would like to raise a couple of specific provisions. Part 2 of Bill C-3 adds a new section 6(1), which gives complete discretion to the Minister of National Defence or an officer so appointed to exempt any persons or facilities from liability under the statute. There is no provision for any consultation whatsoever. It is complete discretion. That is a little worrisome given the issue at hand.
I have some greater awareness of the necessity for expanded aerial surveillance. This certainly arises when we are talking about dealing with marine spills and the inspection of tankers coming into our three coasts. I had the honour, when we had the program for members of Parliament, to spend a week with our armed forces, to spend it with the SARs, the search and rescue teams, on the east coast of Canada. That included flying with the surveillance airplanes, which communicate with the ships going into our ports.
It became very evident to me and my colleagues that we were in need of giving greater attention to improving surveillance ability and to very dated aircraft, both airplanes and helicopters.
In part 4, dealing with the Marine Liability Act, proposed section 74.28 prohibits the entry into a port without a certificate issued under the act. There are various provisions. The certificate is issued by Canada if the ships are owned by Canada, but probably in the vast majority of cases these oil tankers will be owned by some other foreign national. It raises the question of at what point in time officers will be able to stop those ships if they are already in port and if we will be stuck with tanker ships that are not seaworthy. There are a lot of big issues that merit discussion in committee, including the capacity, staffing, and training of officers to intercede in all of these ships.
I see the need for the tabling, simultaneously, with an enforcement compliance strategy. Are we, as the government likes to say, “shovel-ready” to enforce these new provisions if they come into effect? What is the capacity on the coast? There have been a lot of cuts to enforcement and scientific agencies.
As I mentioned, we would appreciate getting the report from the three-person Tanker Safety Expert Panel. It would be very helpful to the review by the committee. We cannot ask the government the obvious question, because it is not standing up and being held accountable for the bill, but I am curious to know what marine law experts it consulted with. It is very important that we know our law is well-founded and that the provisions of the convention that are brought forward actually reflect what is stated in law. In proposed subsection 74.4(3), the power to make regulations, there is absolutely no requirement to consult experts in the field, to consult on the potential impact to communities, or to consult military experts.
The proposed provisions to amend the Canada Shipping Act are very interesting to me. I come from a province where there is a several-hundred-fold percentage increase in the rail shipping of raw bitumen. There are two major terminals now being built in Alberta that will allow for 24-hour loading and movement of rail-loaded cars with bitumen. I would have thought at the same time the government would have come forward with legislation to ensure that when we set up these terminals, we would ensure we would have greater provisions to prevent incidents and respond to spills. A decade ago, there was the largest freshwater spill of bunker C oil in Lake Wabamun. The response was a complete disaster by both the federal and Alberta governments. I would like to see similar action by the government in all ways that we are shipping petroleum products to improve safety.
Mr. Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, to begin, what strikes me in this debate is the deafening silence of the Conservatives despite their claim that this bill is important for the protection of the environment, for the Canadian economy and for the protection of Canadians. It seems my Conservative friends have nothing to say about their own legislation.
Let us face it, this bill is not good enough. We, the official opposition, the NDP, feel that it does not go far enough even though, in some respects, it is a step in the right direction. It is incredible. If, all of a sudden, the Conservatives are unable to speak, perhaps they can suddenly start listening. That would be a first.
My colleagues from British Columbia and Alberta made that point very clear. It is about having the tools to better protect our environment but also, and more specifically, to better protect our coasts from the threat of toxic or dangerous spills for our ecosystems. Such spills would threaten the extraordinary Canadian biodiversity and the habitats close to areas where our fellow citizens live.
Every step in the right direction helps avoid catastrophes that are not natural disasters. These catastrophes are often the result of negligence, abandonment and a lack of seriousness in the rules. They are directly responsible for tragedies that have occurred all too often in the past.
Canada is surrounded by water. We are even reminded of that by our motto. Therefore, we cannot help but be concerned by the protection of our coasts, particularly with respect to oil spills. Indeed, there is a lot more shipping of oil and gas products, or of very heavy products that can have a devastating effect on the environment.
We wonder why the Conservative government is suddenly so keen on protecting the environment. I have a feeling that some members opposite may have recently felt the need to soften their image and to balance their message to Canadians and Quebeckers since becoming a majority government.
They always pit the environment against the economy. We, on this side, believe that the two must go together. It is only normal that sustainable and responsible economic development would go hand in hand with the protection of ecosystems and of the environment.
I am reminded of a quote attributed to David Suzuki that says “without an ecology there is no economy”. Without a healthy environment, we cannot do business or trade. This is why we need to find a good balance. I am delighted to see the Conservative government starting to show an awareness of these issues. The timing seems somewhat opportunistic, however, with less than two years until the next election. Nevertheless, if it can really make a difference, so much the better.
Making a real difference requires resources. On the official opposition side, we have some concerns in this regard. Do we have the resources we need to implement the rules in Bill C-3, including protecting the coastline after a toxic or hazardous spill?
If we look at food inspection or railway safety inspectors, the Conservatives' record is hardly reassuring. Nowadays, for inspectors who oversee and monitor railways, the ratio is one inspector to 4,000 railcars. That is beyond absurd.
The Conservatives say they have not eliminated any inspector jobs. However, there has been a huge increase in rail transport of hazardous materials in Canada over the last five years. Many more tanker trucks and railcars now go through our cities and towns, but no one has allocated resources to determine whether they do so in the safest way possible. We have every right to wonder: are we in the same situation again?
The government told us it would eliminate 19,600 jobs in the public service without affecting anyone. It said that there would be no impact, that it would save money on administration and red tape. One may wonder just what these people used to do at the office. They used to do things that no one is left to do now.
We can also look at toxic spills from the other side of the issue. We can give ourselves the tools to conduct inspections and audits, but has a strategy been put in place to prevent spills? Is research being done to improve the equipment? Are we having a dialogue with our international counterparts on international standards and the steps that must be taken to ensure that cargo ships are safer and that inspections take place elsewhere as well? The cargo ships that sail near our shores are not always Canadian. What can we do to work together internationally so that double-hulled cargo ships become the minimum standard and so that we can reach an agreement on the thickness of the materials used to build them? Instead of cleaning oil off the backs of birds on the shore, we could ensure that the standards are the same for everyone, even if it costs a bit more. There would be a level playing field, as the saying goes. We would actually have an accident prevention strategy instead of just cleaning up after a spill.
Part 5 of Bill C-3 “amends the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 to introduce new requirements for operators of oil handling facilities”. This has to do with the permanent equipment on our shores that enables us to import or export those types of products. The bill sets out the requirement to inform the minister of any operations and to submit plans to the minister.
Part 5 introduces a new requirement whereby the operators of oil handling facilities must submit a response plan to the minister. It extends civil and criminal immunity to response organizations engaged in response operations. It also introduces new enforcement measures and monetary penalties, in addition to granting new investigative powers to Transport Canada investigators.
I wonder if there will be enough Transport Canada investigators to get the job done. My colleague from Edmonton pointed this issue out earlier. That is a valid question. It looks good on paper, but if, tomorrow morning, the Transport Canada investigators are swamped because they must do everything and do not have the necessary personnel and resources, will there be a real impact? Will there be a real change in the right direction? We hope so. That is a small improvement and change.
The NDP will support this because it is a step in the right direction. However, we would have expected the Conservative government to take this more seriously. We were expecting a more comprehensive strategy.
We are disappointed that the Minister of Transport did not reply to a letter from the NDP, dated April 5, 2013, in which we asked that the bill be sent to committee so that it could be examined more thoroughly and so that meaningful work could be done. Unfortunately, the Conservative government ignored that request.
The NDP is committed to ensuring that an oil spill never occurs on our coasts. That should be our goal. The Conservative track record makes it increasingly difficult to believe that the concerns of Quebeckers and Canadians are being taken seriously.
Bill C-3 is a thinly veiled attempt to compensate for past inaction and Conservative cuts to marine safety.
The measures in Bill C-3 that are designed to improve safety are relatively weak compared to the risks posed by closing the oil spill response centre in British Columbia, closing the Kitsilano Coast Guard station and cutting environmental emergency response programs.
It is so contradictory and muddled that I think the Conservatives should stop trying to tell people things. Either they seem to hurt themselves or they sit silently and do not talk, as is the case today. They have no idea how agonizing it is for those of us who are trying to understand. We want to know where the Conservatives are going with this and what exactly the message is. Unfortunately, they do one thing and say another, or say one thing and do another. It is like saying that it was not me; it was the previous government. It is not my fault; it is the Liberals' fault.
We, the official opposition, want the Conservative government to be straightforward, consistent and clear. Unfortunately, yet again, that is not what we are seeing today.
Mr. Pierre Dionne Labelle (Rivière-du-Nord, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I was excited to come to the House today, knowing that the Conservative government wanted to reconsider things and explain the relevance of the measures in Bill C-3. Surprisingly, no Conservatives are rising to justify the bill. That is ridiculous. Not only are they gagging the opposition with motions to limit debate, but they are also not even participating in the debates. They introduced the bill and they do not want to hear the opposition debate it. They introduce the bill and could not care less about any amendments the opposition might suggest. This is an attack on Canadian democracy. “All you madmen, where have you gone?” Quoting Daniel Boucher seemed appropriate this morning.
I would like to quote another songwriter:
Sitting on the edge of the Cap Diamant, dipping my feet in the St. Lawrence.
I chatted a while with the great Jos Monferrand
We spoke of rain and good weather, then Jos Monferrand asked, “Are you ready?” “Ready for what?” I replied. He said, “Are you ready for a huge spill in the St. Lawrence River?”
The Minister of Natural Resources says we are ready. The Premier of British Columbia does not think we are ready for this kind of spill. There is massive pressure from the oil lobbies to export Alberta oil. One aspect of this strategy is to transport the oil to oil terminals in the St. Lawrence via pipelines. The oil would then be sent to foreign markets.
Right now, before the two pipeline projects have even been implemented, 82 ships with 150,000 tonnes of oil travel the St. Lawrence every four days. They supply the Ultramar refinery, among others. The idea is to reverse the flow and use the St. Lawrence estuary to ship refined oil, and probably crude oil, to foreign markets. The energy east pipeline would make it possible to transport a million barrels of oil a day to oil terminals in Quebec and New Brunswick.
Now I am going to talk about the Gulf of St. Lawrence, my gulf, my St. Lawrence, my Big Blue. It is a majestic, unique and fragile ecosystem, an incredible environment conducive to the reproduction of dozens of marine species, several of which are endangered. Some of those species at risk include the cod, the blue whale and the leatherback turtle. The gulf ecosystem plays a fundamental role in the health of the river's ecosystems and estuary. As many as 350 rivers flow into the St. Lawrence. Apart from its biological richness, the St. Lawrence is also characterized by its great geological richness. As a result of the sedimentation process, there are also oil sources in the St. Lawrence. There are hydrocarbon deposits. The Old Harry oil exploration project, for example, apparently represents two billion barrels of oil. However, developing that oil, like exporting Alberta's oil via the St. Lawrence, entails incredible risks. Whether large or small, there will inevitably be spills.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence is an inland sea one-sixth the size of the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, all the oil spill computer simulations show that oil spilled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, as a result of a platform failure or a supertanker on the river whose tanks have burst, would have an incredible impact on the five maritime provinces. One feature of the St. Lawrence River is that it is the largest water pump in the world.
The St. Lawrence River has what are called changing tidal streams. In large tides, the 12 km/h east-west current reverses to west-east at 10 km/h. As a result, everything that is spilled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence flows upriver to the secondary rivers and tributaries of St. Lawrence. The tide rises three or four metres. Oil spilled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence would thus not only wind up in the gulf itself, and therefore in the maritime provinces, but would also flow up the St. Lawrence into the Saguenay, Matane, Manicouagan and Outardes rivers. All those rivers would also be affected by a major spill.
Are we prepared to deal with that kind of spill? We know that oil tankers in the past managed to transport one million barrels of oil. Supertankers now carry as much as two million barrels.
There is obviously a permanent risk involved in transporting this substance. Will there be other spills off our coasts? Of course there will. There have been 10,000 spills around the world since 1970. There have been some very large ones. Here in Canada, we obviously remember the Exxon Valdez, but 2.9 million litres of oil were spilled in the Singapore Strait, in Malaysia, in 2010. Also in 2010, another tanker spilled one million litres of oil on its way to Texas.
Currently, under the provisions of this bill, a tanker would be required to have an oil recovery capacity of 10,000 litres. We are not in the same league. Here we are talking about 1.7 million and 2.9 million litres of oil. How can we deal with that kind of spill under the proposed measures? The fund that would have to support all that oil recovery work represents $400 million. The oil-recovery and site-decontamination effort following the Exxon Valdez spill alone cost $3.5 billion.
We obviously cannot imagine the costs that would be incurred if that kind of spill happened in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. What we do know is that they would necessarily be borne by Canadian taxpayers, whom our friends opposite love and systematically defend. That is what we are going to do as well. We are going to do it better than they because we are going to demand that the ceiling, this minimum of 10,000 litres of oil, be increased. It is unrealistic to claim that we will be able to protect our coastlines with that guarantee when supertankers containing two million barrels could run aground there.
Moreover, as everyone knows, the St. Lawrence estuary is where there is the greatest risk of collision in the world. The ships that sail the St. Lawrence are required to use pilots to avoid the many shoals, crosscurrents and reversing currents. Hundreds of obstacles in the St. Lawrence mean that transportation by oil tanker is dangerous, especially with the cuts that have been made to maritime surveillance. I am thinking of the Quebec City centre that the government wanted to close and that is in the process of closing. That centre received no fewer than 1,500 calls.
I would like to cite Mr. Émilien Pelletier, director of the Canada Research Chair in Marine Ecotoxicology, who says that, for the moment, our oil recovery methods, particularly in wintertime—because it should not be forgotten that the Gulf of St. Lawrence freezes—are 30 years old, and we have not invested enough in research to develop more effective methods. We still use barriers, a system that is not effective and often fails.
I will answer questions now.
Mrs. Anne-Marie Day (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this bill today. It is a bit of an omnibus bill, since it will affect five other pieces of legislation. I have to say at the outset that I am originally from the Gaspé, from Grande-Rivière to be precise, a small village between Chandler and Percé. It is such a wonderful place. I invite all Canadians to come and visit this magnificent region one day.
As I said, I am originally from Grande-Rivière, a small village between Chandler and Percé. I mention this because, on the one side, we have Percé, well known for its rock, which is practically recognized as a world heritage site—and I hope one day it receives the UNESCO world heritage designation—and on the other side, we have Chandler, which was an industrial town with paper mills and the non-stop traffic of ships transporting lumber. They are on the St. Lawrence, which, as we know, is a seaway that allows oil tankers to travel to major centres and large cities and back again.
I was born and raised in Grande-Rivière. My father's family was born in the Gaspé and my husband's family was born in the Gaspé, so we are people of the peninsula. Water is as much a part of us as the blood that runs through our veins. One of my children was also born in the Gaspé. We began raising our family in the Gaspé before moving to the north shore. The St. Lawrence actually runs between the two regions. From there we regularly see boats passing by, including everything from small craft and sailboats to larger vessels such as tankers, cruise ships and so on. Near Les Escoumins and Grandes-Bergeronnes, there is a small street called rue des Capitaines, which is where ships sailing on the St. Lawrence change pilots. Why would there be a change of pilots? Because, as we know, navigating the St. Lawrence can be very tricky, and a pilot from another country will not know the waterways or exactly where to sail to avoid serious accidents. Therefore, something very important happens there.
The St. Lawrence River is a part of all of our lives. The NDP tried asking the Conservative government to refer the bill to committee so we might study it closely and broaden its scope.
Many foreign tankers navigate these waters. Several of them also drop anchor locally so they can be cleaned after they have been emptied. This increases water pollution, which we have to be increasingly mindful of.
We are lucky that we have not had a major environmental disaster. I cannot help thinking about the magnificent marine park that is the mouth of the Saguenay River, where there are minerals and marine wildlife that are found nowhere else in the world, because this is where the Saguenay, the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean meet. These characteristics make for an extraordinary natural environment. It goes without saying that we want that environment protected. The marine disaster response act directly relates to this sector, because it is very important to have the means to protect our waters in case of a marine disaster.
We support this bill at second reading. However, it only moderately improves marine safety. We would like to see more in the way of protection.
I would like to read part of an article by the David Suzuki Foundation about the devastating consequences of marine spills on the environment and on communities:
|| It is quickly becoming clear that offshore hydrocarbon development is costly, polluting and dangerous, even before considering an oil spill. No matter how you look at it, the impacts are far-reaching and long-lasting.
|| Five provinces border the Gulf of St. Lawrence...
These are the same five maritime provinces, out of 10 Canadian provinces, that were at issue in the Employment Insurance Act. That act affected seasonal work, which is very common in the eastern provinces that the government has left to their own devices. That is half of Canada. Once again, these five provinces are being affected because they are located along the St. Lawrence River, a major seaway.
For example, fishing directly or indirectly affects about 75% of the people in the Magdalen Islands near Old Harry and generates close to $78 million in revenue. That is significant. It is a lot of money. An oil spill near the islands would have a devastating impact on the inhabitants, not to mention that tourism, which is just as critical to the economy of the maritime provinces, would be decimated by an oil spill.
In addition to that socio-economic aspect, the Gulf of St. Lawrence is a unique and fragile ecosystem because it is key habitat for hundreds of species that reproduce, mature and migrate there, including the blue whale.
Under ideal conditions, only 15% of spilled oil can be cleaned up, so it should be clear that the risks associated with development far outweigh the potential benefits.
In another article, Christy Clark said, “Canada is clearly not ready to handle any major oil spills.”
We know that Coast Guard numbers have been cut. Responding will be difficult. That is why the committee needs to take a closer look at this issue.
I think that supporting Bill C-3, as my colleagues have done, is important as part of an approach that goes pretty far. However, this new measure does not undo the disastrous effects of the cuts in the first budget, including the closure of the marine rescue centre. This shows just how inconsistent, even contradictory, the government's policies are. People are wondering whether this is a sincere initiative designed to protect our environment.
I have a lot of questions about another issue that has been brought to my attention. I wonder why the members opposite, who are trying to defend this piece of legislation, are not giving any speeches today to elaborate on their ideas and better explain what they want to do.
Just because a government has a majority does not mean that it can get away without explaining things to people so that they can better understand the issues and take more informed positions in debates.
Overall, as we know, Bill C-3 seeks to enact or amend five other pieces of legislation.
One of the parts deals with the aviation industry indemnity. I am concerned about the fact that, regardless of the ability of participants to obtain insurance, the Minister of Transport will undertake to help and indemnify certain air carriers in the event of loss, damage or liability caused by war risks. We know that even private insurance does not cover those types of things.
Mr. Jasbir Sandhu (Surrey North, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak on behalf of my constituents from Surrey North. I come from British Columbia, and we are fortunate and very glad that we have ocean on one side of the province. The pristine waters right off the coast of British Columbia and also the inland waters generate a lot of economic activity, including a huge fishing industry in British Columbia that supports families. Also, there is a huge tourism industry that uses those waters. We get visitors from all over the world who come to experience the natural beauty of British Columbia.
Having said that, it is important that we protect those waters and keep them safe from any activity that goes on in the inland waters and off the north coast of British Columbia. The government has an opportunity here to show leadership in protecting those waters off British Columbia.
I could go back into what the Conservatives have done over the last number of years. They have made cuts. They have closed a number of Coast Guard stations, including the one in Kitsilano. They have made cuts to the marine communication traffic centres, including the marine traffic control communications terminal in Vancouver and in St. John's. They are closing the B.C. regional office for emergency oil spill response. The government has also made cuts to the offshore oil and gas energy research centre.
Here was an opportunity to show leadership, to come up with a policy and legislation that would have a lasting impact on not only the environment but the pristine beauty of British Columbia. Bill C-3 addresses five different acts. It is sort of a mini-omnibus bill. We have seen this from the Conservatives over and over when they try to ram through legislation that makes changes to a number of different laws without consultation with stakeholders and without involving those people who would be affected by the legislation. Time after time, the Conservatives have had the opportunity to address those concerns, and time after time I have seen them fail that test.
Bill C-3 makes amendments to a number of different acts. As we can tell from the title of the bill, it is an omnibus bill being introduced by the government in an attempt to push through as many pieces of legislation as possible, essentially undermining democracy. The bill literally covers everything from the bottom of the sea to above the clouds in the sky.
Bill C-3 is an interesting contrast to the previous mode of operations of the Conservative government. In March, I stood in the House to address the $108 million cuts that the Conservatives have made to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. These cuts directly impacted the Kitsilano Coast Guard station, the marine communications traffic centres in Vancouver and St. John's, Canada's offshore oil and gas research, as I pointed out earlier, and also British Columbia's oil spill response centre. They have all been shut down.
No one has forgotten those cuts, especially British Columbians, people in my riding, who are proud of the natural beauty and pristine wilderness that our province boasts. There has been no consideration to reverse those cuts and prove that the Conservatives value our environment and our country.
However, here we are now with a bill in front of us that attempts to compensate for the previous inaction and cuts to marine safety. It is difficult to trust the Conservatives trying to protect the environment, given their track record. The NDP, including my colleagues in the House, is fundamentally committed to ensuring that oil spills never happen on our coasts. My NDP colleagues and I have time and time again stood in the House demanding that the government pay attention to marine safety. Time after time, the government has failed to respond to our concerns and the concerns of Canadians. I introduced a bill in the House last spring to protect a major creek in my riding, Bear Creek.
Specifically in regard to Bill C-3, the NDP requested that the scope be broadened by sending it to committee before this debate to include more comprehensive and specific measures to protect Canada's coasts. Again, this proposal was rejected by the Conservatives, a clear indication of their dedication to the issue at hand.
Time after time over the last two and a half years the NDP has made numerous amendments, thousands of amendments at the committee stage, to different bills. Out of those thousands of amendments, not one has been accepted by the governing party. That shows a lack of commitment by the Conservatives to listen to all stakeholders who have come before committees and a lack of willingness to partner with stakeholders so that we can make the best rules and laws for Canadians.
That is a major concern that clearly shows the Conservatives are not only not looking after the interests of the environment but they are not looking after the interests of Canadians.
Clearly the Conservatives believe that their words are stronger than their actions. Pushing through a bill that increases tanker safety and environmental security will help to close the gaps in protection that exist. However, those gaps are the result of poor decisions by an incompetent government.
It is difficult to believe that the efforts of the bill are genuine, considering that the Conservatives have repeatedly prioritized the transportation of oil over the environment. This is demonstrated through their targeted closures of protection and response institutions, pulling out of the Kyoto accord, and by constantly disregarding climate change and partially muzzling our scientists.
As I do, Canadians welcome any attempt to right the wrongs that have been committed by the government, but they will not be fooled by this particular bill, which basically does not go far enough. It does not address some of the shortcomings that the government has brought upon the safety of our marinas and marine waters off the coast of British Columbia and across the the way in eastern Canada.
Again, the Conservatives had an opportunity to address some of the concerns that Canadians have in regard to marine safety. The bill basically touches on some of the issues, but it does not go far enough.
Time after time I have seen the government, whether it is on veterans' issues, unemployment issues, or immigration issues, fail to address the concerns of Canadians. The bill does not address the marine safety that is required for the pristine waters of British Columbia. I urge the government to allow and accept some of the NDP, the official opposition, amendments that we will be presenting in the committee.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to participate in the debate on Bill C-3. Many of my colleagues have spoken today, which is great, because this is a very significant bill that needs to be thoroughly debated both here in the House and in committee.
The first point I would like to make is that Bill C-3 is another omnibus bill that is being brought forward by the Conservative government.
Unfortunately, we have become used to receiving these mega-omnibus bills. This one is not as big as some of the budget bills we have had, bills that stripped away environmental protection and regulations and put everything in but the kitchen sink; this is a smaller one, but nevertheless, it is still an omnibus bill. It would make amendments to five different acts, including the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act, the Aeronautics Act, the Canada Marine Act, the Marine Liability Act, and the Canada Shipping Act.
I am not going to focus on all aspects of the bill today, because I have limited time to speak. I want to focus particularly on the Canada Marine Act and the aspects pertaining to marine issues because I am from British Columbia and this, of course, is a huge issue for us on the west coast.
First of all, I would say that there are some positive aspects to the bill. We have gone through it very carefully and we can see that, for example, it would require pilotage and increased surveillance for boats and tankers coming in, which is certainly a small step in the right direction.
However, we note that the bill is too limited. There is still a lot more to do. Certainly one of the things that needs to be done is for the government to reverse the effects that the drastic cuts in last year's budget have had on tanker safety on the west coast.
When we read Bill C-3, I think we can see that it is a pretty thinly veiled attempt to compensate, like window dressing, for previous inaction and the Conservative cuts to marine safety.
The measures that would improve safety in Bill C-3 are relatively small in comparison with the risks that are posed by closing the British Columbia oil spill response centre, shutting down the Kitsilano Coast Guard, and gutting the environmental emergency response programs.
We see a bill before us that would have some limited effect, but it does not address the serious and major issues facing British Columbia in terms of marine conservation, tanker traffic, and safety. The bill would not go nearly far enough. It would probably be 5% of what needs to be done.
I know many of my colleagues have addressed this aspect today, but I will add my voice to make it clear that we in the NDP are committed to ensuring that oil spills never happen on our coast. Maybe some people think that is not a realistic position, that it is really just about damage control and mitigation of problems and disasters, but we think the policy we should work from is to ensure that spills never happen.
That means taking a very different kind of approach. It means taking an approach based upon the precautionary principle. It would be an approach based upon the public interest. It would an approach based upon the fact that we believe the federal government has a critical role in making it clear that for marine industries, for tanker traffic, there have to be strong, clear, consistent rules that all the players adhere to so that oil spills can never happen.
Why would we take that approach?
We take that approach because the prospect that any of the incredibly beautiful and rugged British Columbia coastline could be spoiled by a spill is something that one does not want to contemplate. It is not only the disaster that occurs at that moment, but the impact.
I remember when the Exxon Valdez had its historic spill many decades ago. It was in the news for days, weeks, months. The devastation to the environment was enormous, while the response to the spill was very limited.
People learned a lot from that, not only in B.C. but globally. Public consciousness about the safety of tanker traffic and the risk of spills increased enormously.
That was many decades ago. Now we are talking about an environment and an industry in which supertankers with much greater capacity make the Exxon Valdez look like a mini-tanker. On the one hand we are told that safety provisions, improved design, double hulls, and so on have improved the situation, but in fact accidents and spills still take place even when the hulls are doubled, so we think that taking the perspective of the precautionary principle is important. As a result, we are committed to ensuring that there is legislation, policy, and regulation to ensure that oils spills never happen on our coast. That is something we are committed to.
I believe it was in 2011 that we debated an NDP motion that sought to put into effect the existing verbal agreement that has banned oil tankers off the coast of B.C. for the past 40 years. This so-called moratorium came about as a verbal commitment with the Province of B.C., but nothing was ever put in writing.
It was a very good motion and a very good debate. The motion to have the moratorium put into legislative effect passed in the House at the time. Unfortunately, the government never followed up, so we still have this very uneasy situation in British Columbia: on the one hand we have this 40-year-old moratorium, but on the other hand there is no paperwork to show that it exists.
The Government of Canada website states:
|| There is a voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone off the B.C. coast that applies to loaded oil tankers servicing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System between Valdez, Alaska, and Puget Sound, Washington. This zone does not apply to tankers travelling to or from B.C. ports.
It is very clear that it is limited. Basically, it is a very particular exclusion zone, and it is voluntary. That is the basis of the moratorium.
That is not good enough. It needs to be enshrined in a proper legislative process. If we are to protect future generations, then we owe it not only to residents of B.C. and our global community today but also to future generations to ensure that such protection does exist.
The NDP's call to ban oil tanker traffic through this corridor is supported by first nations; local, regional, and provincial politicians; environmental groups; tourism, recreation, fishing, and other potentially affected industries; and over 75% of B.C. residents. Members can see that this is a huge issue in our community.
I stated at the beginning that in principle we support this bill going to committee. However, when it does go to committee, there are many issues that we will be raising. For instance, we want to see reversal of the Coast Guard closures, including the Kitsilano Coast Guard station, which was done in an appalling way. Basically it was a unilateral decision to close the station despite an uproar in metro Vancouver and the fact that its closure would not serve the community well.
We also want to see a cancellation of the closure of B.C.'s regional office for emergency oil spills. It is unimaginable that we do not have a regional office for emergency oil spills and responders. To me that is incredible.
To sum up, we feel that a number of issues are not addressed in this bill and we will be following up on them at committee. If we are to have safety on the west coast in terms of tanker traffic, this is imperative if the bill is to have any meaning at all.
Mr. Ryan Cleary (St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I stand in support of Bill C-3—tentative support, I should add. The bill includes the enactment of the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act and amendments to the Aeronautics Act, the Canada Marine Act, the Marine Liability Act, and the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. The bill also makes consequential amendments to other acts.
Yes, Bill C-3 is an omnibus bill that makes amendments to five acts. Is that too much legislation to stuff into one act? Well, of course it is, but such is the modus operandi of the Conservative government: pack and pile as much legislative change as it can into an omnibus bill so as to limit the opposition's scrutiny and to get as much by Canadians as possible.
However, Canadians are catching on to Conservative tactics and tricks. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians caught on a long time ago, but then the rising usually starts in the east. That said, we support the bill at second reading because there is a modest improvement to marine security, the key word being “modest”.
Our support for Bill C-3 is cautious. Our support is moderate at second reading. Committee scrutiny and input with expert witnesses will determine whether we will vote for or against the bill at third reading.
What I want to focus on is the government's complete lack of credibility on issues regarding marine safety—complete lack of credibility, the absence of credibility. That side of the House is where credibility goes to die.
We know there are two sets of response times for the Canadian military search and rescue. During banking hours, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday to Friday, the military's Cormorant search and rescue helicopters have a wheels-up response time of 30 minutes to get off the ground and respond to a distress call. After 4 p.m., Monday to Friday, during evenings, weekends and holidays, the wheels-up response time is two hours. That is what I mean when I say there is no credibility on issues regarding marine safety; it is where credibility goes to die.
Ask the family members of Labrador's Burton Winters about credibility and they will tell us about the death of their 14-year-old son because help did not come quickly enough. Marine safety and Conservative credibility do not belong in the same sentence. Marine safety and Conservative credibility do not belong in the same breath.
The parts of the bill that I want to concentrate on include those sections that deal with marine safety in relation to the oil industry. We had requested that aspects of Bill C-3 be broadened to include more comprehensive measures to safeguard Canada's coasts, certainly not packed into an omnibus bill. These comprehensive measures to safeguard Canada's coasts would have neutralized or reversed Conservative cuts and closures specific to marine and environmental safety.
The Conservative government rejected our proposal to broaden the scope of the bill. There is no surprise there. Not a single soul in this country wants to see an oil spill. New Democrats are obviously committed to ensuring that oil spills never happen, but the Conservative record is making it increasingly difficult to trust that the concerns of Canadians are being taken seriously.
Trust is another word like credibility. Trust and credibility should not be mentioned in the same sentence, in the same breath, as Conservatives. The bill is a thinly veiled attempt to compensate for previous inaction and Conservative cuts to marine safety.
There are measures to improve safety in the bill. The required pilotage and increased surveillance is a small step in the right direction. So are increased inspections of foreign tankers. However, those small steps are just that—small—compared to the risks associated with the closure of British Columbia's oil spill response centre, the shutting down of B.C.'s Kitsilano Coast Guard station, and the gutting of environmental emergency response programs.
Again, this legislation appears to be part of a concerted effort by the Conservatives to try to address their non-existent credibility in areas of transport safety, particularly concerning oil tanker traffic on the west coast and mounting opposition to the northern gateway pipeline.
The scaling back of Coast Guard rescue capacity and facilities is not just isolated to the B.C. coast. In my neck of the Canadian woods, the Canadian hinterland, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Conservatives have shut down the marine search and rescue centre in St. John's. We had a rescue coordinating centre with Coast Guard people who knew every nook and cranny of thousands of kilometres of coastline. The rescue centre was shipped out of Newfoundland and Labrador. That can only be described as negligent.
What would New Democrats like to see in this bill? What measures would New Democrats want to see in a bill to safeguard Canada's seas, to protect our people and protect our environment? In B.C., reverse Coast Guard closures. Cancel the closure of B.C.'s regional office for emergency oil spill responders. In B.C. and Newfoundland and Labrador, cancel cuts to marine communication traffic centres, including the marine traffic control communications terminals in Vancouver and St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Reverse cuts to key environmental emergency programs, including oil spill response for Newfoundland and Labrador and B.C.
What other measures do New Democrats want to see in a bill to safeguard Canada's seas? How about reinforcing the capacity of petroleum boards to handle oil spills, as recommended by the environment commissioner? What capacity do petroleum boards, like the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, have to handle oil spills? The answer is none. It is non-existent.
The C-NLOPB needs to build in-house expertise to manage a major oil spill, with the creation of an independent safety regulator. That was the chief recommendation of the Wells inquiry into the 2009 crash of Cougar flight 491 off my province's coast, a crash that killed 17 people. The chief recommendation was for the creation of an independent safety regulator. Where is that independent safety regulator? Where is it? It is nowhere to be seen.
There are problems with the offshore regulator, the C-NLOPB, and the Conservatives are in no rush to fix them. The public's confidence in the C-NLOPB was already shaken, following a string of political appointments as well as the board's failure, to date, to follow through on an independent safety regulator. Last winter, this country's environment commissioner released a report that revealed that the C-NLOPB, the board responsible for regulating the offshore oil industry, is not prepared for a major offshore oil spill. If that is not a shocking combination that undermines what little public confidence remains, I do not know what is.
The C-NLOPB has not yet completed an assessment of the oil spill response capabilities of the offshore operators, which are required to respond to spills, almost five years after that assessment began. The C-NLOPB is not prepared to take over response to a major offshore oil spill if an operator fails to respond as required. In a nutshell, when it comes to environmental protection, the C-NLOPB is failing us. The Conservative government is failing us.
If there were a major offshore oil spill tomorrow, the C-NLOPB does not know whether the offshore oil companies would have the equipment or the resources to deal with it. The board itself would not be prepared to pick up the slack. What are we doing? What is the Conservative government doing? It is not doing enough. The Conservatives know this to be true. They know this to be true beyond the shadow of a doubt. We know this to be true, as sure as Conservatives have put safety and the environment in the back seat, behind its corporate agenda and corporate profits.
How do we know this to be true? We know this to be true because the Conservatives have refused to speak throughout much of this debate. The Conservative silence is deafening. Do we hear the voices of objection? No, we do not.
Ms. Nycole Turmel (Hull—Aylmer, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-3.
During the previous session, we called upon the government to broaden the scope of Bill C-57, the former incarnation of Bill C-3, by sending it to committee prior to second reading so that more comprehensive measures aimed at protecting Canada’s coasts could be incorporated into it. Unfortunately, our request was turned down, and as several of my colleagues have mentioned, in addition to denying our request, today the Conservatives are not even speaking to this bill, explaining their position or answering our questions. It is truly deplorable.
The bill before us today does not go any further than Bill C-57, but we will nevertheless vote in favour of it at second reading, in the hopes that we will be able to convince the government to improve upon the marine safety provisions when it proceeds to clause-by-clause study in committee. The outcome of the efforts in committee will determine whether or not we will support Bill C-3 when it moves to third reading. Again, I hope that we will be able to truly debate the bill’s provisions in committee, and I call upon the government to be open-minded and to work with the opposition to make this bill a better piece of legislation.
I will concede that Bill C-3 does contain a few positive provisions. Enhanced monitoring and piloting requirements are a step in the right direction. The implementation of the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances, 2010, to which Canada is a signatory, is also a positive development. However, as I indicated earlier, Bill C-3 does not go far enough. It does not reverse the effects of last year’s drastic budget cuts on oil tanker safety. The provisions in Bill C-3 aimed at improving safety will have a relatively minor impact as compared to the risks posed by, for example, the closure of B.C.’s oil spill response centre, the closure of the Coast Guard station in Kitsilano and the cuts to environmental emergency response programs. All of Canada, and not only B.C., is affected.
The government has decided to close the marine rescue centre in Newfoundland and Labrador. It is also planning to shutter the marine search and rescue centre in Quebec City. These rescue centres respond on average to 1,500 distress calls each year. Who will be there to rescue sailors from Newfoundland and Labrador and from Quebec when they encounter an emergency at sea?
In the fall of 2012, two large transport vessels ran aground on the west coast because of marine traffic conditions. Marine traffic is projected to increase significantly on the west coast. Add to that the fact that increasingly large tankers are being put into service. We have higher traffic volumes, larger vessels and Bill C-3, which does not go far enough. I am concerned by this state of affairs, as is our party.
As an MP and as a citizen, I have some serious questions as to why the government would not want to beef up the bill as the NDP is asking it to do. Upon closer review of Bill C-3, we are left with the impression that the government is trying to make up for its lack of leadership in the field of marine safety since taking office. If it really wants to show some leadership, it must avoid half-measures and put some teeth into its bill, because it still comes up short. We want to take part in the process.
If the true aim of Bill C-3 was to promote greater tanker traffic safety, the Conservative government could seize the opportunity to review the cuts announced in the latest budgets and reconsider eliminating marine safety programs. As I said, we have a number of suggestions and recommendations to make and we are prepared to work in committee to improve the bill.
The NDP is committed to ensuring that oil spills along our coastlines become a thing of the past and that our sailors stay safe.
In our view, a bill aimed at protecting Canada’s seas should provide for the following: firstly, the cancellation of plans to reduce Coast Guard services and close stations, including the Coast Guard station in Kitsilano. Secondly, it should expand the capacity of petroleum boards to handle oil spills, as recommended by the Commissioner of the Environment. Thirdly, the bill should also require Canada’s Coast Guard to work with its American counterparts to carry out a study on the risks associated with increased tanker traffic in Canadian waters.
As I said earlier, we have clear suggestions for improving the bill now before us. As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to put in place conditions that will prevent oil spills from occurring on the west coast and elsewhere in Canada.
Scott Vaughan, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, has stated that Canada does not have the means to respond effectively to an accident involving a supertanker such as the Suezmax, which carries between one and two millions barrels of crude oil. Just imagine a disaster of that magnitude.
To be precise, Mr. Vaughan stated that the transport capacity of the Suezmax “significantly exceeds Transport Canada’s spill-response thresholds”. This kind of statement is truly alarming. What is the government waiting for? When will it take action?
A major spill off Canada’s shores would not only do irreparable harm to the marine environment, but would also result in thousands of job losses. We need to do everything possible to ensure that this does not happen. I would like to hear our Conservative colleagues explain why it makes sense not to improve this bill so as to cancel the closures and cutbacks that are in the works.
Mr. Jamie Nicholls (Vaudreuil—Soulanges, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, we have some reservations about this bill. We have many questions to ask and a number of suggestions to make. We have done this in the past, and we are somewhat concerned about the silence of not only the Conservatives but also the Liberals and, what is more surprising, the Green Party. We are supporting this bill at second reading, but we believe it should be expanded. It must be broadened to take liability limits into account. We are worried that the current liability limits are not high enough.
We know that the New Democratic Party is the only party in the House that can protect marine safety for all Canadians. The NDP has already called for the protection of rescue centres in Canada a few times, but as a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, I would especially like to point out that the Quebec City rescue centre is the only bilingual centre in the entire country. The government cannot claim that it is protecting marine safety on one hand, while closing rescue centres on the other. We could have a whole other debate on this, but I have several things to discuss in my 10 minutes and I would like to continue talking about other topics.
My riding is located between two major waterways, namely the St. Lawrence River and the Ottawa River. I can tell all members of the House that my constituents are currently very concerned about the possibility of a pipeline oil spill in the St. Lawrence River or even in the Ottawa River. They are aware that the national ship-source oil pollution fund, which was established in the 1970s, has not been adequately funded for a long time and has not been used since 1976. That was a long time ago. I would like to point out that, at that time, there was a Liberal minority government in power—until 1976—and that it governed in partnership with the NDP. We can therefore see that the Liberals were willing to protect the interests of Canadians, but as soon as their NDP partner was gone, they unfortunately left Canadians out in the cold.
We often hear the government side claim that oil transportation is 99.9% safe, but if that is indeed the case, why not increase liability limits? If it is so safe, then there is no risk in having penalties for companies, so why not increase liability?
Some other countries, like Norway, have no liability limits on spills. This policy reduces the risk of spills. I will briefly explain why. When a company is told that it will have to cover the total cost of a spill, the company will do everything it can to avoid a spill; it will try to make sure it never happens.
Instead, the government would rather pass the cleanup bill onto the taxpayers, which I find very unfortunate. Globally, we have seen major spills that have cost billions of dollars. It would not only be an environmental nightmare, it would also be an economic nightmare for citizens along the St. Lawrence to have to pay the costs of the cleanup.
Let me just point out that in 2012, the five largest oil companies made $118 billion in profit alone. That $118 billion would be enough to pay the cost of cleanup if there were a major spill. Unfortunately, the government is listening to its big oil lobbyists instead. In past legislation it has attempted to remove every obstacle that the oil and transport sector wanted removed.
Leadership means not only helping our friends, but standing for principles that concern all Canadians, not just a certain sector of Canadians. I am sure Canadians would be absolutely disgusted, and I do not believe I am using too strong a word, to know that oil companies are writing amendments to Canadian environmental legislation. Any of our constituents would be disturbed by the fact that oil lobbyists actually send to ministers the amendments they would like to see. It is absolutely unacceptable that our independence has been challenged in this way by the lobbying sector.
Leadership means taking a principled stand to protect the right of not only this generation, not only the next generation, but for the right to a clean environment for the next seven or eight generations down the line. As leaders of our country, we should be considering the needs of eight generations down the line.
One of the fundamental support systems of this planet is water. If we do not do it properly now, if we sully our waters so the next generations will be un able to use them, then our support system for life on this planet will be threatened.
The NDP is committed to ensuring that oil spills never happen on our coast. The Conservatives have lost the trust of Canadians in this respect. They have not really shown to Canadians that they are capable of managing this file, and we would like to ensure that an oil spill never happens. However, if an oil spill did happen, we would want the government to ensure that the company that polluted would foot the bill, not the taxpayer. This is simple common sense. We are very worried.
The Minister of Natural Resources said that he required oil tankers to have double hulls. Canadians are right to be concerned, because that standard was created by an international agreement in 1993. Wow. That standard has been in place for 20 years under an international agreement. Yet, according to the Minister of Natural Resources, the Conservatives are the ones who required tankers to have double hulls. I am sorry, but people know that this standard has been in place for 20 years.
As I said, what is most troubling is the utter silence from the Conservatives and the Liberals. I am also quite surprised that the Green Party has not risen to weigh in on this issue. That surprises me a little.
We have not heard anything from the Conservatives. We had a number of questions for them. I hope at least one person from the other parties will be able to answer my questions.
As we know, the bill is too limited in its scope. Why did the government reject our proposal to broaden the scope of the bill? Why is it unwilling to make any real, significant changes to protect our coastlines? If Bill C-3 is really supposed to promote safety, why did the government not take this opportunity to reverse its poor decisions to cut safety measures?
We wanted to ask a number of questions. The silence on the part of the three other parties is really unfortunate. The NDP are the only ones standing up to speak to this bill. It is the government's duty to defend its bill. Clearly, many members across the floor do not want to do so.
Ms. Anne Minh-Thu Quach (Beauharnois—Salaberry, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, today we are debating Bill C-3 and while some Conservative members asked questions, none actually spoke on this legislation. Yet, this is a government bill. It should be very important to the Conservatives, but not a single one rose to talk about safety and the investments made to ensure that there will be fewer spills and that tanker traffic will be safe.
We live in a country blessed with natural wealth. There is an abundance of natural resources. The development of these resources, including mining, rail, forest and marine resources, is largely responsible for our country's economic prosperity. We must secure this prosperity in the long term, and to do so we must protect our environment.
An offshore oil spill can have catastrophic consequences for decades, such as water pollution, dwindling fish stocks, harm to health and to the environment, and massive job losses.
Today more than ever, our wealth depends on how we manage our resources. That is the key to our development and this should be an inescapable fact. Bill C-3 seeks to amend five important acts dealing with the aviation, aeronautics and marine industries. Bill C-3 is a new version of Bill C-57. The NDP had asked that this bill be amended to ensure that it truly protects our environment. Unfortunately, as usual when it comes to environmental protection, the Conservatives rejected all our calls to improve former Bill C-57.
The most important part of the bill deals with marine safety and oil spills. It is also this aspect of the legislation that needs improvement. In fact, if we really want to protect Canada's coasts that part should be examined by experts. Part 4 of Bill C-3 amends the Marine Liability Act. It deals with the concept of liability in the event of an oil spill. Under the act, the owner of a ship is responsible for the costs and expenses incurred by the government following the spillage of dangerous products at sea.
Part 5 of Bill C-3 amends the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. It sets new rules to compel oil companies to notify the minister of their operations. These companies will have to submit a response plan to deal with a disaster or an accident. The NDP, a number of stakeholders and many citizens have been eagerly awaiting such a provision.
The bill is absolutely necessary, but it does not meet many of the challenges of oil development and transportation in Canada. It is a good step forward, but it is still quite limited. This legislation should include many other aspects of marine transportation.
The shipping of oil is risky business. As a number of my colleagues pointed out, tanker traffic tripled between 2005 and 2010, and it is expected to triple again by 2016. The increase in oil shipments leads to more spills, whether onshore or offshore. According to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, there have been close to 10,000 spills in the world since 1970. That is a huge number and it is very alarming.
I will refresh your memory. In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil platform spilled 678,000 tonnes of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In March 2001, the Petrobras oil platform, in Brazil, spilled 300,000 tonnes of oil. In March 1989, the Exxon Valdez spilled 38,000 tonnes of oil off the coast of Alaska, not too far from us. Canada is not sheltered from these accidents. Burrard Inlet is the second most dangerous point to navigate in Vancouver. In March, the largest emergency response ship ran aground off the coast of Vancouver and took 11 hours to make the trip to Vancouver from Esquimalt. There are some problems, and we should carefully consider this issue in committee to make practical amendments and improvements that address current needs. With the increase in maritime traffic in the Arctic, the risk of accidents is even higher.
Canada's ability to combat pollution in a northern climate is more limited than in a southern one. Intense cold, distance and lack of on-site emergency equipment would make emergency operations much more complicated.
Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, recently said:
|| If a tanker were to spill oil off the coast of British Columbia today, the federal government would not have the resources to handle a large-scale disaster.
Last year, Scott Vaughan, the former commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, said that the liability limits and compensation programs could be inadequate if a spill were to happen.
The absolute liability limits have not been changed in 24 years. Updates have been needed for ages. Although the Conservative government plans on increasing petroleum resource development, it has not increased liability for these resources. For example, the Atlantic liability is $30 million. However, the full cost of cleanup for the Exxon Valdez disaster was more than $3 billion. That is a disproportionately big difference, and it is quite worrisome.
The U.S. Coast Guard seems to take the risk of accidents more seriously. The Minister of Natural Resources is studying the effects of increased tanker traffic on the west coast whereas Senator Maria Cantwell feels that a supertanker oil spill near our shores would threaten the thriving coastal economy and thousands of jobs.
It is therefore difficult to understand why the Canadian Conservative government is making cuts to marine safety. Why did the Conservatives shut down the Newfoundland and Labrador marine rescue centre? Why do they want to close the Quebec City marine rescue sub-centre? The sub-centre responds to almost 1,500 distress calls every year. Why close down the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in British Columbia? Why make cuts to marine communications and traffic services, including the terminals in Vancouver and St. John's?
No matter how much the Conservatives remind us that they want to improve marine safety, they are not able to rise in the House today to answer questions, to clarify the situation and to defend their views. No one on the Conservative side has stood up today. Yet these issues are vital to public health and safety, environmental protection and thousands of jobs.
Ever since the Speech from the Throne, they think they are the champions of job creation when they are actually jeopardizing thousands of jobs. That boggles the mind. It makes no sense at all.
The government should understand that, to respond to risks at sea, it must base its decisions on science and facts, and consult with experts, not censor them or cut their jobs.
Bill C-3 could be greatly improved if the government listened to what the experts and the opposition have to say. That seems a lot to ask, however, of a government that prefers to base its decisions on old neo-liberal theories like “government intervention is not required” and “industry will be self-regulating”. We can see what that way of thinking produces when we talk about rail safety or food safety. Many incidents occur, and people are affected. The Conservative theory does not work, and it leads to disasters like what occurred recently in Alberta.
The NDP would nevertheless have a few suggestions to make to the government, if it was prepared to listen. We suggest that it cancel the cuts to marine safety, strengthen the capacity of petroleum boards so that they can see about preventing oil spills, and raise the limit for cleanup after a spell. The limit is currently set at 10,000 tonnes, which is not really enough, given the increase in the size of tankers and in the traffic.
We also suggest that it apply the polluter-pay principle. That is what the government said it would do in the Speech from the Throne. We are still waiting for the government to put the principle into practice.
It should also bolster the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund. This currently stands at $400 million, but the damage from a single spill like the Exxon Valdez spill, for example, would run into billions of dollars. The government should therefore be more realistic, and a little more responsible.
The NDP would also like very much to hear from expert witnesses on part 2 of the bill. Under clause 19, the military is given investigative powers formerly assigned to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which issued public reports. That will no longer be the case.
There is some progress, therefore, in this bill, but much more work has to be done to achieve real improvement. We have to bring in more resources and arrange for experts to be consulted, so that safety is improved in practical ways in oil projects.