Before continuing with questions and comments, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that questions to be raised at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou, Health; the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Rail Transportation; the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, Library and Archives Canada.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.
Mr. Speaker, I am humbled to rise today to wrap up this debate on Bill C-444, my private member's bill.
It is not often we get to work specifically on behalf of a constituent in such a significant way, by making a change to the Criminal Code of Canada. First and foremost, I want to thank the brave young woman and her mother who inspired me to table this bill. There are also many folks on the Hill I would like to thank for the support and encouragement they have extended to me along the way, as well as for the personal work they have put into our debates on this bill. This also includes my wonderful staff, here in Ottawa as well as back in Red Deer.
As I have said, this bill is about sentencing. It speaks to the need for tougher penalties for personating peace officers and public officers, and it is in line with the fundamental sentencing principle of proportionality, which is stated in section 718 of the Criminal Code. We must preserve the trust and respect that citizens have for police officers. When citizens see a police uniform, they trust the authority that comes with it. We are giving the tools that they need to deliver harsher sentences to criminals who breach this trust to cause harm.
Within the parameters of the maximum sentence for this particular offence, the decision of what sentences are appropriate will still rest with sentencing courts. We know that a number of factors come into play in a sentencing decision, such as the criminal record of the offender or the severity of harm caused to a victim.
Aggravating circumstances are just one more factor that sentencing judges are required to consider when the Crown is successful in a conviction. Sentencing achieves a number of results, and one of them is support for victims. The rights of victims need to be protected. They must know that there are serious consequences for criminals who have hurt them.
I extend my heartfelt condolences to any Canadian who has been a victim of someone maliciously personating a police officer to do further harm. I dedicate this work to those victims.
I thank my colleagues for their support. If I still have a moment, I would like to thank the following members for their contribution to debate: the Minister of Justice; the members of the Standing Committee on Justice for their thoughtful study and debate, and their support; the seconders, the members for Sault Ste. Marie and Oxford; the members who contributed their time in speaking here in the House, the members for Gatineau, Mount Royal, Montcalm, Brome—Missisquoi, Charlottetown, Beauport—Limoilou, British Columbia Southern Interior, Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Louis-Hébert, Nanaimo—Cowichan, Chambly—Borduas, Northumberland—Quinte West, Edmonton—St. Albert, Windsor—Tecumseh, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, as well as the Associate Minister of National Defence.
There is a special symbolism of having every member present in this House stand to show their support, not just for a bill but for victims and police officers throughout this great nation.
However, because of the uncertainty that surrounds the closing days of any session, I would be proud to use this opportunity to stand on behalf of all members and to accept unanimous consent if the House so chooses.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Beauport—Limoilou for sharing his time with me and for ably outlining both his support for the bill and his concerns.
Others have mentioned it, but just to put it in context, New Democrats will support the bill at second reading. However, as the member for Halifax outlined, we have a number of concerns. What we are talking about is the fact that the bill, which proposes making Sable Island Canada's 43rd national park, has the support of national and local environmental groups. However, there are a number of concerns with respect to drafting. It requires study at committee.
The bill would ban drilling within one nautical mile of the island as well as drilling on the surface of the island. Unusually, exploration activities would be allowed on the island, a first for a national park. These exploration activities would be limited to those that are low impact. However, this term is currently undefined.
Parks Canada would also have to be consulted by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board before permits for petroleum-related activities could be issued. The board would be given the discretion to include conditions for mitigation or remedial measures for the company to address with respect to the impact of the proposed project on the park.
It is not just New Democrats who are raising concerns that need to be considered at committee. CPAWS testified at the Senate committee, but it also issued a press release, which stated:
In our view, it is unacceptable to allow oil and gas exploration inside a national park.... Even low-impact activities can be detrimental to such a sensitive ecosystem, and we need to take all necessary precautions to ensure that the ecological integrity of the island is the management priority.
To ensure that conservation remains the top priority for the management of the island, CPAWS continues to advocate for developing off-site visitor experiences, limits to visitor numbers, continued scientific research on the island, and restrictions on oil and gas development.
I am going to turn to the west coast, because although we have very different ecosystems, there are some commonalities that are important to highlight in the context of talking about Sable Island. I want to start by pointing to a report by the Royal Society of Canada in 2009. CBC reported on this in 2012, with the headline “Canada failing its oceans, biodiversity panel finds”. It went on to say:
An expert panel investigating the state of Canadian marine biodiversity has accused the government of failing to protect the country's oceans, leaving marine life threatened and the nation's ocean species at risk.
It is talking about risk to Chinook salmon, which, of course, are iconic on the west coast. It is related to national parks, because these protected areas provide avenues for biodiversity to flourish, and when we do not do a good job of protecting them, and we talk about things like potential exploratory drilling for oil and gas, we start to wonder whether the priority is the protection of the environment. The story went on to say:
“It leaves huge discretionary powers to the minister of Fisheries and Oceans, who is given no science-based guidelines, targets or principles,” the report said. “The panel found not lack of knowledge or lack of sound policy, but a consistent, disheartening lack of action on well-established knowledge and best-practice and policies, some of which have been around for years”.
It goes on to say that among the species the panel listed at being at risk of extinction is the Chinook salmon.
When we are talking about protected areas and national parks, I want to give a couple of examples from my area of the country. They are instructive in terms of both the actions that have been taken to protect these areas and the continuing risks. These are in the context of what we need to consider with regard to Sable Island.
I want to start with the southern Strait of Georgia. This is from a report called “How Deep Did Canada Dare?” One of the interesting things they did was rate these protected areas. In the particular case of the Southern Strait of Georgia, the report says that progress has been significant but conservation measures remain uncertain.
That is part of the concern that has been raised with regard to Sable Island. What will those conservation measures look like? Will there be enough resources put in place? Will Parks Canada, Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans do their part to ensure the ongoing protection of this very special area? I think most Canadians have heard of Sable Island
With regard to the southern Strait of Georgia, I want to point out a couple of important facts. CPAWS says:
Although Parks Canada and the BC government have been working on the feasibility study for over 10 years, it is still not completed. In the meantime, the Southern Strait of Georgia is open to intensive shipping and heavy recreational fishing use. While the Canadian and BC governments have agreed to proceed with the NMCA [the National Marine Conservation Area], no specific protection measures have yet been outlined. We are also concerned that a vaguely defined and “phased approach“ to establishment may be used, which would leave much of the area unprotected for years to come.
I come back to some of the language around low impact on Sable Island. The same kind of concerns are being raised. Low impact has not been defined, and we have the same kinds of issues around a vaguely defined phased approach.
These are questions that need to be asked at committee about more definition, more targets and more timelines.
What is at stake when we are talking about the southern Strait of Georgia?
[T]his body of water between the southern BC mainland and Vancouver Island has long been revered for its role in nurturing both human and natural ecosystems. It includes critical habitat of the federally endangered southern resident killer whale and many fish species, including rock fish, lingcod and herring.
Approximately two million shorebirds and seabirds use the region's estuaries, tidal flats and coastal waters as summering, staging and wintering grounds. Harbour seals are year-round residents. Steller and California sea lions are present during the winter months. Many “world giants” make their home here, such as the world's largest octopus, sea urchin, nudibranch, anemone, intertidal clam, sea star, scallop and barnacle.
CPAWS goes on in the article to talk about the human threat to this very important ecosystem. One of them, aside from urbanization and increased shipping, is the threat of increased oil tanker traffic through the area.
The sad thing about this is that in 1971, the federal government reported that “the Gulf Islands and the Saanich Inlet area should become a National Marine Park. The area is in the process of rapid development, so prompt action is required if its natural charm is to be preserved”.
Then for 25 years, there was no progress. It was only because of organizations like CPAWS, which spearheaded the development of the southern Strait of Georgia marine conservation network, that it brought together a coalition to work on this special area. Of course, part of this is on the boundary of my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. The people where I live really care about the health of the waters around our area and are concerned about making sure that we all take seriously our responsibility for protection and preservation.
I want to touch on another special area outside of my riding called the Hecate Strait glass sponge reefs. These are special reefs. The goal of CPAWS and others is “full legal, long-term protection as an Oceans Act Marine Protected Area and designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for the Glass Sponge Reefs in Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound”.
The reason I raise this is because this is such a unique area. CPAWS talks about the uniqueness of it in this report. It says:
These unique marine animals were first discovered off the coast of BC in the 1980s and are the only known living glass sponge reefs of this size anywhere in the world.
We have something so special in British Columbia. The Hecate Strait glass sponge reefs are estimated to be 9,000 years old and reach 25 metres in height, the size of an eight-storey building.
The reason I bring this up in the context of Sable Island is because we know what is damaging these fragile ecosystems, the glass sponge reefs. Some steps have been taken. The bottom trawling that was seriously damaging these reefs was finally halted, but it has not stopped some of the sedimentation and some of the trawling that is impacting on this fragile area outside of the protected zone.
When people are looking at Sable Island and the protection zone around it of one nautical mile, they need to carefully think about whether activities just outside of that one-nautical-mile zone are going to impact on the health and well-being of Sable Island.
I am pleased to be able to bring these facts forward for consideration in the House. I hope that there is a fulsome debate at committee. I hope we will hear from witnesses at committee so as to consider some of these implications.
Before we get on to the hon. member for Winnipeg North on resuming debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou, Health; the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona, Employment.
Resuming debate. The hon. member for Winnipeg North.
Before moving on to questions and comments, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona, Public Works and Government Services; the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, International Cooperation; and the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River, Citizenship and Immigration.
The hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou for questions and comments.
Mr. Speaker, I want to, first of all, thank my NDP colleague from Victoria for introducing and supporting the debate on this important opposition day motion. I also want to say that I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Beauport—Limoilou.
I am very pleased to speak on this important motion today. At heart, what we are talking about is taxes, but ultimately, it is about hypocrisy on the part of the government. I would go even further and say that it is hypocrisy and disregard for Canadians and the difficult times that so many Canadians find themselves in.
Let me start with hypocrisy. The current Prime Minister promised that during his term as prime minister, there would be no new taxes. That was echoed by the Minister of Finance when he said in this particular budget that there would be no tax increases. Let me just clarify with a couple of quotes.
I give you my word: As long as I will be prime minister,...there will be no new taxes.
You know, there's two schools of economics on this, one is that there are some good taxes and the other is that no taxes are good taxes. I'm in the latter category. I don't believe any taxes are good taxes.
That was the Prime Minister who said that.
The Minister of Finance, in his budget speech just this year, said, “We will not raise taxes”.
It is profound hypocrisy to then, in this budget, forget this promise and raise taxes for Canadians that will mean nearly $8 billion out of their pockets. The Conservatives are raising taxes on over 1,200 types of goods that will hit Canadians right in the pocketbook, things Canadians have to pay for every day—basic goods and services—whether it is school products for kids, household utensils or bicycles. Even iPods are not exempt. The list of taxes is quite significant. Over 80% of consumer goods will be affected. They include baby carriages, school supplies, as I said, shoes, clothes, and many other consumer products in a time of a still very fragile economic situation. The economy is still in a fragile state, and to have this kind of tax on everything is very difficult for consumers.
I want to emphasize the iPod tax, which is, of course, buried among the taxes listed in budget 2013. It is a new 5% tax on MP3 players and iPods that are coming into Canada. To emphasize the hypocrisy of this tax, I want to cite the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, who, in December 2010, said:
During this fragile economic recovery, the last thing Canadian families and consumers need is a massive new tax on iPods.
However, that is exactly what the government has introduced. This is going to be hitting more than 80% of Canadian products, things such as safety deposit boxes and insurance programs and even more substantial programs, such as labour-sponsored venture capital corporations, which are investment bodies that create jobs and help build communities across this country.
I have spoken to chambers of commerce and investors who are very concerned that the government has simply misunderstood what these venture capital corporations are about. It saw the word “labour” and thought maybe it would just be attacking unions by raising taxes on these labour-sponsored funds rather than attacking communities and jobs and upsetting business and the investment community.
The government has also raised taxes on credit unions. We believe that competition is a healthy thing, including in the financial sector; credit unions provide healthy competition for the major banks in this country, but instead the government has opted for a cash grab that is going to impact the operation of credit unions across this country. Again, I do not know whether this is just an exercise in hypocrisy or whether they really do not like credit unions, because the impact of this tax on credit unions is going to be significant.
In sum, Conservatives are increasing the costs on average Canadians, but let us look at the record of the government when it comes to profitable companies and when it comes to the wealthy in this country. We have seen the current government, like the Liberal government before it, cutting tens of billions of dollars in taxes on profitable corporations. At the same time, it has turned a blind eye to tax havens and money going offshore that could be contributing to the public coffers. Maybe it would mean Canadians would not have to be taxed on iPods, bicycles and kids' shoes.
Fully one-quarter of all Canadian foreign direct investments has gone into tax havens. In 2011 alone, Canadians invested, so to speak, $53.3 billion in Barbados and $25.8 billion in the Cayman Islands. Is this money that should be here in Canada, being taxed and contributing the public good in this country? Would that not be a fair way to treat Canadian tax dollars?
At a time when nearly 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed and when in March alone Canadians lost 54,000 full-time jobs, we have seen a record increase in temporary foreign workers. They have tripled in number. Companies are allowed to pay them 15% less than Canadian workers, so we are seeing the suppression of Canadian wages and the undermining of jobs and taxes here in Canada at the same time as the dinging of average consumers in the pocketbook, which will affect every Canadian family across this country.
It is the height of hypocrisy. It is a betrayal of the needs of Canadians during this fragile economic period.
We believe that fair is fair. We should all be contributing fairly to the good of this country to make sure that our social programs and services run in a manner that Canadians want to see and contribute to the public good right across this country.
Before recognizing the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou, I would tell hon. members I realize that we have a large gallery here in the afternoon just ahead of the budget, and of course we will do whatever we can to accommodate that in the best spirit we can. You may want to increase the audio on your control. We will seek the best co-operation we can from the gallery in all instances, but it is welcome to have members of the public here for the budget.
The hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-48, the technical tax amendments act, 2012. It is a very important piece of legislation. While the legislation may be technical, it is nonetheless important legislation that would benefit all Canadians, providing the clarity and certainty to Canada's tax system.
Our government has conducted extensive consultations on the provisions of the bill, some provisions having been announced over a decade ago. As previous parliamentarians' efforts to pass these amendments were unsuccessful, the backlog has increased over the years, and it is more important than ever to pass these technical amendments. In fact, among those calling for Parliament to quickly pass the amendments includes the Auditor General of Canada, who in a 2009 report stated:
Taxpayers' ability to comply with tax legislation depends on their understanding of how the rules apply to their own circumstances. [...] Uncertainty about how the law should be applied can also add to the time taken and costs incurred by tax audits and tax administration.
I could not agree with the Auditor General more. However, it is not just the Auditor General who is saying this; it is all the other parties in the House, as the bill has all party support. In fact, earlier this week, during the finance committee study of Bill C-48, the NDP member for Parkdale—High Park, and finance critic for her party, said, “Obviously we support the goal of closing tax loopholes and making the tax system in Canada clearer and easier to understand for Canadians”. The NDP finance critic went even further, on Bill C-48's first day of debate, saying, “the official opposition [New Democrats] will be supporting the bill”.
One would think that after making such an unequivocal statement of support for the legislation that she and all NDP members would be eager to vote on this important piece of legislation and ensure its timely passage through the House of Commons.
Alas, the actions of the NDP seem to be at odds with the NDP finance critic's statement. I have to ask: What is the reason for the NDP delay? Even more puzzling, it is not simply the NDP finance critic who is displaying these bizarre tendencies; it is every member of the NDP. My hon. colleagues have all declared their support for the bill while at the same time trying to filibuster second reading, for over 100 days. This attempt to disrupt what is only the first stage in a long legislative process continues to delay the finance committee's opportunity to formally study the bill.
I have taken the liberty of reviewing the debate on the bill and, time after time, the NDP MPs are vocal in their support for this piece of legislation. For example, the NDP member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques said, “We will support this bill because it eliminates some tax loopholes and other measures that lead to fiscal inequity”. The NDP member for Beauport—Limoilou said, “It will be a great pleasure for me to support this bill”.
The NDP member for Manicouagan said, “We support the changes this bill makes, and particularly those aimed at reducing tax avoidance”. This sentiment was echoed by the NDP member for Surrey North, who said: “We support the changes being made in the bill, especially those aimed at reducing tax avoidance”.
The NDP member for London—Fanshawe said, “The bill makes important and long-overdue changes to the tax laws” , and then went on to say, “New Democrats support the bill..”. The NDP member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing said, “As the House is aware, the New Democrats are supporting the bill...”.
The NDP member for Scarborough—Rouge River even highlights that her reason for supporting the legislation is that many of the provisions have already been announced, declaring, “Once they've been announced, people accept them as adopted. It's for these reasons that we are supporting the bill”.
These kinds of comments from the NDP continue and continue. NDP member after NDP member have all voiced their support for this piece of legislation, which has been in Parliament for more than 100 days. Furthermore, all of these statements of support came on the very first day of debate; yet more than 100 days later, we are still debating the bill at second reading.
This is simply unbelievable. Why would members of the NDP support the legislation, but not ensure its passage at second reading to the finance committee for closer examination by their own NDP colleagues? One wonders what the NDP hopes to gain by prolonging the debate. Again, perhaps the members are unaware that many of the measures have already undergone extensive debate in this House.
In fact, Bill C-48 has been before Parliament for five months now, as it was introduced in November of last year. Do members know what this means? Clearly, the NDP members do not, and so I will spell it out for them.
Let me state again that the House of Commons has had more than 100 days to examine and debate this bill at second reading stage already. We have already had days and days of debate and heard hours and hours of speeches, but what has all this debate yielded from the NDP benches? As I have highlighted, it is repetition upon repetition of support and praise for this legislation.
Well, if NDP members truly do support it, I plead with the NDP to not stall second reading in debate. Let us work together and pass this important legislation that would help Canadians. Let us make Parliament work. That would be an important change for the NDP, as its members have repeatedly shown that they have a track record of delaying and opposing legislation that would be beneficial to Canadians. For an example of this, we need look no further than our Conservative government's economic action plan legislation in these recent years.
What is more, NDP members have shown time after time that they would prefer to vote against tax relief measures that help Canadians and our economy, such as the hiring tax credit for small business and the introduction of a tax-free savings account. They even voted against a reduction of the GST to 5%.
However, we all know what the NDP does support: a carbon tax. I find this very puzzling. On the one hand, the NDP would gladly support a reckless $21 billion carbon tax that would raise the price on essential goods and services for Canadians, but it would stall well-reasoned and thoroughly examined legislation like Bill C-48.
While the NDP finds these partisan procedural games amusing, Canadian taxpayers and businesses, who are waiting for these technical amendments to be passed, certainly do not.
Despite the NDP's bizarre position on this bill, Canadians can rest assured that their Conservative government will work to ensure the passage of Bill C-48 through Parliament so that taxpayers' confidence is not lost in Canada's tax system.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the hon. member for his question. In response to the question from the member for Beauport—Limoilou, I am pleased to comment on the incident that occurred last October at the Port of Quebec and that affected some residents in part of the Limoilou sector.
On October 26, 2012, Quebec Stevedoring, a company that operates on the quays in the Port of Quebec, unloaded a ship containing a cargo of iron oxide, which is a fairly fine iron ore substance that also contains fine dust. Unloading began during the day, and no incident was reported. However, unloading continued until dusk, and fine mineral dust in the bottom of the ship's hold was discharged. That was when the unloading created a red dust cloud that affected part of Limoilou's residential sector.
After learning about the incident, Quebec Stevedoring put in place measures to respond adequately to the situation and to make sure that this kind of incident does not happen again. Specifically, Quebec Stevedoring set up a telephone line for residents who were affected by the dust cloud to help them get financial assistance to clean their goods and property.
Quebec Stevedoring also improved its operations to minimize the risk of a reoccurrence, mainly by adding water cannons. For its part, the Quebec Port Authority is installing a new dynamic system to monitor the nature and quantity of air emissions from port operations.
As you can see, the port authority reacted promptly to the incident on October 26, 2012. I would like to point out that this is an isolated event despite the millions of tonnes of dry bulk cargo that are transported to the Port of Quebec each year. As a result, there is nothing to indicate that we are dealing with a public health problem.
I am fully confident in the ability of Port of Quebec officials to take the action required to ensure that strategic economic activities can continue in Quebec and in Quebec City, and to protect the health of city residents and the environment they live in.
Before we move on to questions and comments, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Winnipeg North, Citizenship and Immigration; the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou, Health.
The hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques has two and a half minutes left for questions and comments.
The hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou for sharing his time with me.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to debate Bill C-24.
While the members opposite might not want to recognize it, New Democrats are absolutely in favour of developing good trading relationships. We understand the need for expanding our markets, but that does not mean that we will give our support to bad agreements. We cannot give uncritical support for the mere notion of trade, and we will stand opposed to those agreements that unnecessarily expose Canada to playing fields that are anything but level.
New Democrats would like to see agreements that go about creating and preserving jobs here in Canada, not documents that hasten the movement of production to other countries. I think most Canadians would agree that keeping good-paying jobs in Canada should be a bare minimum condition for a trade deal and that creating more and better jobs should be the real goal.
The government is fully aware that only New Democrats proposed amendments to the Canada-Panama free trade agreement when the bill was studied at committee. That is a clear example of how we are willing to work to make this agreement better. We clearly are focused on agreements that prove to be of net benefit to Canadians. It cannot be said that New Democrats did not come to the table prepared to work and make the agreement better for Canada and Panama. In that respect, we are pragmatic about trade agreements. The government paints that as something else. However, we have seen that over time, New Democrats' reservations are usually based on probable outcomes and not on an exercise in wishful thinking.
With Bill C-24, there are critical problems that underline the significant differences in belief that separate us from the Conservatives and the Liberals when it comes to negotiating trade deals. For example, we believe that the preconditions to ensuring a level playing field should already be more or less in place. Without that, one country may reap a significant advantage, such as an abundance of cheap, poorly paid labour that operates under substandard labour laws with respect to important Canadian ideals such as workplace health and safety.
New Democrats have also had long-standing disagreements about the significance of environmental protection and the role that should play as these agreements are developed, contrary to the other side. In fact, this trade agreement, like too many others, has a critical flaw in terms of environmental protection. Those measures have been tucked inside a side deal instead of being given prominence in the agreement itself. That further entrenches the belief that the environment must take a back seat to economic interests, which is a view that is irresponsible and unsustainable.
Therefore, when we look at Bill C-24, we ask ourselves what the advantage is for Canada. Will Canada come out ahead? This is not guaranteed. Does this deal reflect the kind of country we are? Again, there are no guarantees, and there are more than a few requests that we take a leap of faith instead. We are asked to take a leap of faith on the environment, on labour, and on the transparency of the Panamanian government and its intention to deal with Panama's reputation as a tax haven. Quite simply, Panama has a long history of being a tax haven. It has gone out of its way to help people hide money from countries like Canada, and that sends up a red flag for many Canadians.
The Conservatives tell us that they are negotiating a separate deal with Panama to address this concern, but on this issue, the government has a credibility problem. It is easily argued that the Conservatives have little interest in addressing offshore tax havens. I will let members decide what the motives for that might be. We know that the Conservative government cut back on inspectors and the resources Revenue Canada uses to catch offshore tax cheats. That is not the stuff of a government that takes the problem seriously. It does not even make economic sense. We know full well that every dollar spent investigating offshore tax fraud nets five dollars in return. Any person on the street would tell us that this is money well spent. Therefore, we can dump the argument that this is somehow about saving money.
This is why New Democrats have a difficult time believing the government's claim that it is addressing the problem in a separate agreement. The fact that it is not already in place, ahead of this free trade agreement, is distressing. I am certain that most Canadians would agree that if someone were bleeding their income, they would not go out of their way to do more business with that person without first addressing that pre-existing problem. It is not as if we are the junior partner here. This is an agreement we do not absolutely need to make, so the question of why the tax loopholes were not addressed first is legitimate.
Labour conditions are another concern that should be considered more important in the negotiation of trade agreements in general and with Panama specifically. We know that any labour rights in the agreement are not built into the deal itself. They are part of a side agreement that does not really have much in the way of teeth.
Consider that Panama is quite a bit smaller than Canada, with only 3.4 million people, and is a significantly unequal society. A full 40% of the population is poor. The rate of extreme poverty is 27%. That problem is particularly acute among indigenous populations.
Given those facts, it should be clear that we are in a position to use a trade agreement as a tool to help Panama address its problem. Yet without better entrenching labour conditions, we are passing up that opportunity. It is too bad, since we know that the country has gone through significant structural adjustment, liberalization and privatization in recent years that has not translated into economic benefits for the population. Without a bit of a push from a larger partner in a trade agreement, it is difficult to imagine much changing, and it is an opportunity lost. I say that being fully aware of worrisome trends in Panama and how that country is vulnerable when it comes to labour rights and human rights.
Many members will know that in 2010, President Ricardo Martinelli unilaterally changed Panamanian laws. He put an end to environmental impact studies on projects deemed to be of social interest, banned mandatory dues collections from workers, allowed employers to fire striking workers and replace them with strike breakers, criminalized street blockades and protected police from prosecution. Predictably, President Martinelli's attack on labour rights resulted in strikes and demonstrations. Six people were killed, while other protesters were seriously injured. Many were blinded by tear gas and police violence. Ultimately, 300 trade union leaders were detained before the president withdrew the labour provisions and called for a national dialogue with moderate trade union leaders and business leaders. This is not the behaviour of a government that respects labour rights, or human rights, for that matter.
I know there are many on the benches opposite who view organized labour as adversaries. However, I am sure there are precious few who would agree with the severity of the Panamanian response or even with the measures that set these events in motion.
Therefore, when New Democrats say that we would like to see labour rights better protected in this trade agreement, one can see that this is based on very real concerns and unsettling trends. We are not convinced that Panama is quite ready to be given favoured trading partner status or that this agreement has the teeth needed to help lift Panama up to our standards.
I would like to reiterate that we are happy to use trade agreements as a way to make our economy stronger and more vibrant. We believe this can be done without blinders that limit the scope and imagination of what can be negotiated. On this issue, as with so many others, we hear the words of our former leader, Jack Layton, urging us on with a simple phrase: “Don't let them tell you it can't be done”.
Therefore, we call on the government to similarly challenge itself to arrive at trade deals that expand Canadian exports by reducing harmful barriers to trade, that encourage the development of value-added industries, that create Canadian jobs by increasing market access for our products and that increase productivity by encouraging new investment. We say negotiate agreements that diversify our exports, especially in emerging markets, and deals that help reduce Canada's trade deficit and improve protections for labour rights, human rights and the environment.
We support agreements that benefit consumers by expanding choice and bringing down prices and that reflect Canadian values such as transparency, accountability and human rights. That is what Canadians deserve.
Order, please. We are out of time.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to continue the discussion in response to the member's Motion No. 271, which proposes that the federal government recognize the importance of the Quebec Port Authority and support its various projects.
The member for Beauport—Limoilou tabled a motion that calls upon the federal government to recognize that the port of Quebec is important for international trade, in creating jobs, in generating economic benefits and in ensuring the vitality of businesses in Quebec City and the surrounding areas. The motion also calls upon the federal government to support key projects at the port, for the upgrading of port assets and for the development of equipment.
I stand here today to state that the current legislative and policy regime established by Canada's national ports already recognizes the strategic role that the port of Quebec plays in the regional, local and national economy.
Our government does not support this motion for a number of reasons. First, the motion is simply not necessary. Second, supporting the motion could create conditions and expectations that go against the spirit and stated intentions of the Canada Marine Act, the legislation that governs the federal national port system.
First and foremost, let me say unequivocally that the government recognizes the importance of the port of Quebec in terms of its key role in supporting international trade. As this country's fifth largest port authority, it plays a critical role in getting our goods to the global marketplace. In terms of its key role in supporting tourism and jobs in Quebec, there is no question the Quebec Port Authority is an important hub in the region and as a national port as well.
The port of Quebec is a key component of the continental gateway. I will o say a few words about this worthy initiative. The goal of this initiative is to maintain and build upon Ontario's and Quebec's world-class transportation system so that it remains a key driver of international trade and economic growth for the future. The continental gateway is focused on developing a sustainable, secure and efficient multi-modal transportation system that keeps Canada's economic heartland competitive and attractive for investment and trade. It includes strategic ports, airports, intermodal facilities and border crossings, as well as essential road, rail, and marine infrastructure that ensure this transportation system's connection to and seamless integration with Canada's other gateways: the Asia-Pacific and the Atlantic.
The Quebec Port Authority is a key part of that because it is of strategic importance to Canada's international trade, with markets all over the world, including the United States, South America, China, Europe and the Middle East.
The Quebec Port Authority is also a top port when it comes to the cruise industry. It is a leading port of call for cruise ships plying the waters of the St. Lawrence. For example, on one day alone, to be specific, on October 14 of last year, there were nearly 8,500 visiting international cruise passengers and 3,241 crew members visiting the port. There were a total of five cruise ships docked at the port that day. In fact, the port of Quebec recorded its best season ever in 2010, welcoming more than 100,000 passengers and nearly 35,000 crew members. I also understand that the famous Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary II have visited the port. Quebec is, indeed, a top destination for passengers discovering the Quebec to New England route, because Quebec City lives up to the expectations of all tourists.
The numbers say it all. Over the years, the port of Quebec has welcomed 500,000 passengers. Quebec's international cruise industry generates direct economic spinoffs of nearly $86 million, including $25 million in the Quebec City area. As the chairman of the parliamentary tourism caucus, I will be the first to say that that kind of impact as a point of entry for Canadian tourists is an incredibly valuable contribution to the health and prosperity of Canada's tourism sector.
In Quebec and across the country, tourism is one of the most unique sectors of our economy. It creates jobs in all areas: urban, rural and remote locations. Approximately 600,000 direct jobs are derived from tourism nationally and it drives key service industries, including accommodations, food and beverage, passenger transportation, recreation, entertainment, and travel services. Together, these industries account for 9.2% of total employment in Canada.
In Quebec alone, a study commissioned by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada shows that 38,850 tourism businesses are operating there. They create or support more than 391,000 jobs in the province. In the riding of the member for Beauport—Limoilou, who sponsored the bill, there are 401 tourism businesses that support 6,330 jobs.
We can see the importance of the port of Quebec to tourism in that province and we recognize the spinoff effects the port has for tourism right across the country as a high profile point of entry to Canada for international visitors.
More than 2.84 million international travellers visited Quebec in 2010 according to the Canadian Tourism Commission. In total, some 28 million people from Canada and abroad visited the province that year. These visitors contributed $11 billion in tourism receipts for a $7.8 billion contribution to Quebec's GDP. It is obvious that we do not need to have a motion to recognize the importance of the Quebec port's contribution to tourism. Hordes of tourists already do, and they are the ones that really count.
On the international trade side, again the evidence is there. Quebec handled over 24.5 million tonnes of cargo in 2010, serving markets all over the world.
The Government of Canada not only recognizes the importance of the Quebec Port Authority but it is committed to its success. It is also committed to the entire system of Canada Port Authorities.
The Canada Port Authorities was established in 1998 under the new Canada Marine Act. One of the purposes of this act is to, and I quote directly from the legislation, “promote the success of ports for the purpose of contributing to the competitiveness, growth and prosperity of the Canadian economy”. The key element here is the use of the plural, ports, not just one port. The act requires that we recognize the importance of all ports in the national port system together. Now the question is: are we doing that? Let me point out some of the initiatives and a few facts and figures that illustrate how we promote the success of all of our port authorities.
First, the federal government has provided targeted support for key infrastructure, environmental and security initiatives, through allowing Canada Port Authorities access to national funding programs. These programs include the gateways and border crossings fund, the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor initiative transportation infrastructure fund, the infrastructure stimulus fund, the freight technology demonstration fund, the marine shore power program and the marine security contribution program.
The ports applied for these programs and met the criteria for them. They applied on equal footing with each other and with other entities that applied. Between 2005 and 2011, ports received close to $380 million from the federal government. Quebec ports received over $140 million of that under these various programs. This funding was for important environmental sustainability projects and for improving security. It was also used for key upgrades to aging infrastructure and strategic investments for expansions in response to market demands.
It is important to note that while the government provided key support for these projects, the ports also had to contribute. Like any other business, they financed these projects through borrowings on the commercial market.
The key point to remember is that while the federal government provided funding, it also ensured that the ports continued to adhere to the basic tenets of the Canada Marine Act. These basic tenets are financial self-sufficiency, commercial discipline and responsiveness to its users in order to remain competitive in a global economy.
We have provided funding through tough economic times to assist our port authorities in positioning themselves strategically for the future.
We had to fight hard against the opposition parties, including the official opposition, who at the time was slightly less official, to help our corporate and industrial partners like the port of Quebec create jobs. If the port authority was so important for the NDP, it should have supported the actions by our Conservative government then. Sadly, the economy and job creation was not its top priority.
We support all of our port authorities. The port of Quebec, like all other port authorities, has demonstrated time and again that it has the experience and capacity to meet the challenges of the global marketplace and continues to offer competitive services to Canadian port users that rely on the port to move their goods.
The current legislative and policy framework for our national ports has proven to be sufficiently flexible to maintain the balance between commercial discipline and targeted initiatives that support the transportation system.
Madam Speaker, I rise to comment on Motion M-271, moved by the member for Beauport—Limoilou, which reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize that the Port of Québec is of vital importance as a hub of international trade in opening new markets for Canadian business, creating jobs, generating significant economic benefits, particularly in terms of tourism, and ensuring the vitality of small and medium businesses in Quebec City and the surrounding areas; and (b) support key projects for the upgrading of port assets and the development of equipment, taking into account the climatic and environmental challenges of this particular section of the St. Lawrence River.
I agree with my colleague from Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, who spoke earlier in support of this motion. As Quebeckers and Canadians, we understand the importance of Quebec City and its port. That is why Liberal governments have always invested in infrastructure and the environment, which are important to the Liberals.
We also believe, just like the member for Beauport—Limoilou does, that it is important to equip the Quebec City region, and the Port of Québec in particular, with the necessary tools. We will therefore support the motion. It is not complicated. We need to invest in and make a commitment to infrastructure because, with regard to basic infrastructure—whether for transportation by air, land or sea— these tools serve as the pillars of the community's economy. The Port of Québec is a very important port. In order to protect Quebec City, an international heritage site, we must provide it with the necessary tools.
As for the Port of Québec, I know that extraordinary work has been done and that there is a team on site that is quite fantastic and is doing great work. However, the Canadian government's role is to ensure, through the Department of Transport, that the necessary investments are made, especially in infrastructure.
Everyone knows that if we want to invest in infrastructure, in terms of sustainable development, it is necessary and vital that we be fully engaged in the decontamination effort, if necessary, and that we have infrastructure that will enable us to have the necessary tools to ensure the sustainability of this infrastructure.
I will close by simply reiterating our support. The Liberal Party of Canada is the party that has supported infrastructure since 1993. By reviewing programs, it also played a role in returning certain infrastructure such as ports, wharves and airports to municipalities and municipal governments. We believe that the Port of Québec, like the Port of Montreal, must have the necessary tools for its economic development. It is important for tourism, it is important for the economy, and it is important for transportation. Therefore, we will proudly support the member's motion.
There is no consent. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 85, the amendment cannot be moved at this time.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
The electoral district of Beauport--Limoilou (Quebec) has a population of 101,331 with 83,834 registered voters and 233 polling divisions.
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