Speech on Safeguarding Canada's Seas and Skies Act (Bill C-3)

Mr. Fin Donnelly (New Westminster—Coquitlam, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-3, an act to enact the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act, to amend the Aeronautics Act, the Canada Marine Act, the Marine Liability Act and the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

The length of the bill's title would suggest that it is quite a comprehensive bill, but in fact, one of the opposition's primary criticisms of the bill is that it is too modest an approach. It was a missed opportunity here to broaden the scope of the bill to make comprehensive changes to protect our coasts.

As deputy fisheries and oceans critic for the official opposition, I have heard many concerns over the past years about how the current government has closed B.C.'s oil spill response centre and shut down the Kitsilano Coast Guard station and is shutting down Marine Communications and Traffic Services centres in Vancouver, Tofino, and Comox. Many of these closures fly in the face of conventional and practical wisdom.

During second reading of the bill, I spoke at length about the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver. There was a lot of anger and frustration among British Columbians when the minister made this decision and shut the station down. This anger and frustration only continued as expert after expert stood up and said that this decision was a bad idea and was guaranteed to put people's lives at risk. These experts included the Vancouver police chief, the Vancouver fire chief, the mayor of Vancouver, and the premier of B.C. Yet the Conservative government chose to completely disregard the facts and the evidence. Instead, it sped up the closure and dismantled the station as fast as possible.

Put simply, it is increasingly difficult to trust that Canadians' concerns are being taken seriously.

In terms of the bill before us today, I acknowledge that there are some positive parts in it. The NDP is pleased to see a few new measures for increasing tanker safety, including increased inspections of foreign tankers, expanded aerial surveillance designed to monitor ship traffic and detect oil spills, a review of tug escort requirements, and expanded research into the science of oil spills. However, British Columbians are very concerned about the preservation of our coast and the way of life in coastal communities.

In 2012, our province was reminded of the very real threat of a catastrophic oil spill when two major shipping vessels ran aground on the west coast. Given the Conservative government's apparent desire to end the moratorium on north coast tanker traffic, the threat of a spill is something our province must seriously prepare for. That is why I introduced a private member's bill to ban tanker traffic in this important and sensitive area off B.C.'s north coast. It is why so many British Columbians are opposed to the Enbridge northern gateway pipeline proposal in the north and the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal in the south.

If an oil spill or a spill of hazardous and noxious substances were to happen, Canadian taxpayers should not be on the hook for cleanup costs and damages following a spill.

The bill before us today would amend the Marine Liability Act to implement in Canada the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea, 2010, to which Canada is a signatory.

The HNS convention establishes a liability scheme that limits shipowners' liability to approximately $230 million. Damages in excess of shipowners' liability are to be paid by an international HNS fund, up to a maximum of $500 million. My concern is that in the event of a spill of hazardous and noxious substances, the cleanup bill is likely to exceed these limits.

The opposition has attempted to work with the government to improve this part of the bill. The proposed reasonable amendments are to prevent Canadian taxpayers from being responsible for damages exceeding $500 million. Unfortunately, the Conservatives rejected our proposal to make the bill more comprehensive.

I would like to read into the record a quote from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities' submission on Canada's marine oil spill preparedness and response regime.

Our members have a strong interest in the changes to the federal oil spill preparedness and response regime given the proposed pipeline and liquid natural gas projects in our province. B.C. Local governments have indicated that environmental protection is a top priority, and have supported several resolutions with respect to a polluter pay principle, environmental issues and restoration, working with local governments, and the need to increase federal agency staffing and training.

B.C. municipalities support the polluter pay principle, and they do not believe that current environmental measures are adequate to clean up damages caused by these types of large-scale spills or disasters.

The bill before us today is by no means ideal. Its scope could have been broadened to include more comprehensive measures to safeguard Canada's coasts.

Despite the bill's shortcomings, I intend to vote in support of moving it forward. I suppose a modest improvement in marine security is better than no improvement at all.

If the opposition had its way, the bill would have been vastly different. It would have reversed the government's reckless cuts and closures in marine environmental safety.

I should also mention that I am splitting my time with the member for Surrey North.

I have already spoken about the Kitsilano Coast Guard station and the three MCTS centres in British Columbia that are slated for closure. The NDP wants to see a reversal of these Coast Guard closures. We want to see cuts to the MCTS centres cancelled. We also believe the government should cancel the closure of B.C.'s regional office for emergency oil spills responders.

A number of environmental NGOs have highlighted Canada's insufficient safety measures in regard to oil tanker traffic. Unfortunately, Bill C-3 focuses on administrative organization and is lacking in actual environmental improvements.

British Columbians are very concerned about maritime safety. The Conservative government has demonstrated time and time again that it does not take these concerns seriously. Conservatives ignore first nations. They ignore fishermen, and they ignore our coastal communities. I do not believe that the bill will serve its intended purpose of convincing British Columbians that the federal government takes coastal safety seriously.

While I will vote in support of this modest attempt to play catch-up with industry regulations, I would ask the federal government to start listening to British Columbians' concerns. Stop gutting marine safety resources and spending millions on trying to sell the people of British Columbia on risky oil pipeline projects that will see tanker traffic increase exponentially.

I held a series of town hall meetings in my riding of New Westminster—Coquitlam and in Port Moody. I heard these concerns. In fact, I had a follow-up focus group in Port Moody, which is right on the Pacific Ocean, in Burrard Inlet. They are very concerned about marine safety. They are very concerned about an increase in tanker traffic. They are very concerned about pipeline projects that are proposed for our area. In fact, a pipeline project is proposed to go through Coquitlam, and there is a staging area in the park of one of our sensitive areas. This is right on the other side of my riding, which borders the Fraser River.

These are very real concerns to the people living in my riding. They have concerns. They have expressed them to me. When I hold public sessions, when I consult, when I ask for feedback, I time and time again hear how important it is to protect our coastal communities, our way of life, and the concerns that are raised on these projects. I am trying to bring forward these I think reasonable and modest amendments to the government to make these changes. Unfortunately, we do not see the government listening and incorporating these changes.

I hope the government will listen to the people in my riding who have these concerns and make changes going forward. The way I think we could have a productive Parliament would be to have this exchange, and I am not seeing it. I hope the government will listen not only to the opposition but to the people in my riding. Those concerns are real, and they want to see those changes made.