Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Marine safety and Conservative credibility don't belong in the same sentence

I gave the following speech on Tuesday, Nov. 19th, in the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker,

I stand in support of Bill C-3 — tentative support, I must add.  

This Act includes amendments to the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act, the Aeronautics Act, the Canadian Marine Act, the Marine Liability Act, and an amendment to the Canadian Shipping Act, 2001.

This bill also makes consequential amendments to other acts.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, Bill C-3 is an omnibus bill that makes amendments to 5 acts.  

Is that too much legislative change to stuff in one Act, Mr. Speaker?

Well of course it is.

But such is the modus operandi of this Conservative government.

Pile legislative change into an omnibus bill so as to limit Opposition scrutiny and get as much by Canadians as possible.

But Canadians are catching on to Conservative tactics and tricks, Mr. Speaker.  

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians caught on a long time ago.

But then the rising usually starts in the East.

That said, Mr. Speaker, we support this act at second reading because there’s a modest — key word being modest, Mr. Speaker — improvement in marine security.

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 can vote for or against this bill at third reading.

What I want to focus on, Mr. Speaker, is this 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, Mr. Speaker.

We know that with the Canadian military’s search and rescue response times, Mr. Speaker.

For the interest of Canadians listening, there are two sets of response time for 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.

Thirty minutes to get off the ground and respond to a distress call.  

After 4 p.m. on Monday to Friday — during evening, weekends and holidays — the wheels-up response time is up to 2 hours.

That’s what I mean by no credibility on issues regarding marine safety, Mr. Speaker.

No credibility. Where credibility goes to die. Ask the family of Labrador’s Burton Winters.

Ask them about credibility and they’ll tell you about the death of their 14-year-old son because help didn’t come quick enough.

Marine safety and Conservative credibility don’t belong in the same sentence, Mr. Speaker.  

Marine safety and Conservative credibility don’t belong in the same breath.  

The parts of this bill that I want to concentrate on, Mr. Speaker, include those sections that deal with marine safety in relation to the oil industry.

Mr. Speaker, we had requested that aspects of C-3 be broadened to include more comprehensive measures to safeguard Canada’s coasts.

Certainly not packed into an omnibus bill.

More comprehensive measures that would have neutralized or reversed Conservative cuts and closures specific to marine and environmental safety.

This Conservative government rejected our proposal to broaden the scope of this bill, Mr. Speaker.

No surprise there, of course.

Not a single soul in this country wants to see an oil spill, Mr. Speaker, not a single soul.

New Democrats are obviously committed to ensuring 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, Mr. Speaker, there’s another word — another word like credibility — that shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence, in the same breath, as Conservative.

This bill, Mr. Speaker, is a thinly-veiled attempt to compensate for previous inaction and Conservative cuts to marine safety.

There are measures to improve safety in this bill, Mr. Speaker — the required pilotage and increased surveillance is a small step in the right direction.

So are increased inspections of foreign tankers.  

But those small steps are just that, Mr. Speaker — 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, Mr. Speaker, this legislation appears to be part of a concerted effort by the Conservatives to try and 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.

But the scaling back of coastguard rescue capacity and facilities isn’t 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 co-ordinating centre with coast guard people who knew every nook and cranny — thousands of kilometres of our coastline — shipped out of Newfoundland and Labrador.

That could only be described as negligent, Mr. Speaker.

What would New Democrats want to see in this bill, Mr. Speaker?

What measures would New Democrats want to see in a bill to safeguard Canada’s seas, to protect our people and our environment?

In B.C. — reverse coast guard closures, cancel the closure of B.C.’s regional office for emergency oil spill responders.

In BC and Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker, cancel cuts to Marine Communication Traffic Centres, including the marine traffic control communications terminal in Vancouver and St. John’s.  

Reverse cuts to key environmental emergency programs, including oil spill response for Newfoundland and Labrador and B.C.

What other measures would 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 — currently have to handle oil spills, Mr. Speaker?

None, Mr. Speaker, none.

The C-NLOPB needs to build in-house expertise to manage a major oil spill with the creation of independent safety regulator, Mr. Speaker, an independent safety regulator.

That was chief recommendation of the Wells Inquiry into the 2009 crash of Cougar Flight 491 off my province’s coast, a tragedy that claimed 17 lives.

The chief recommendation was for the creation of an independent safety regulator.

And where is it, Mr. Speaker, where is that independent safety regulator.

Nowhere to be seen — no where.

There are problems with the offshore regulator, and the Conservatives are in no rush to fix them.

The public’s confidence in the CNLOPB was already shaken following a string of political appointments — as well as the board’s failure, to date, to follow through on the independent safety regulator.

Then last winter this country’s environment commissioner released a report that revealed the CNLOPB — the board responsible for regulating the offshore oil industry — isn’t prepared for a major offshore oil spill.

If that’s not a shocking condemnation that undermines what little public confidence remains — I don’t know what is.  

The C-NLOPB has not yet completed an assessment of the spill response capabilities of the offshore operators (which are required to respond to spills) almost five years after the assessment began.

The C-NLOPB isn’t 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.

This Conservative government is failing us, Mr. Speaker.

If there were a major offshore oil spill tomorrow, the C-NLOPB doesn’t know whether the offshore oil companies would have the equipment or resources to deal with it, and the board itself wouldn’t be prepared to pick up the slack.

What are we doing, Mr. Speaker?

To quote the environment commissioner’s report, “The potential impact of an offshore oil spill in Atlantic Canada, such as seen in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, could be widespread and devastating to the environment, industry and the livelihoods of many Canadians.”

What are we doing, Mr. Speaker?

What is this Conservative government doing?

Not enough, Mr. Speaker, not enough.

And the Conservatives know this to be true, Mr. Speaker.

They know this to be true beyond the shadow of a doubt.

We know this to be true as sure as Conservative have put safety and the environment in the back seat behind their corporate agenda, and corporate profits.

How do I know this to be true, Mr. Speaker?

Because the Conservatives refuse to speak throughout much of this debate, because the Conservative silence is deafening.

Do you hear the voices of objection, Mr. Speaker?

No Mr. Speaker, you don’t.

Thank you.

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