Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and I would like to commend the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for this initiative. This bill is very important because it will help protect and improve passenger transportation in Canada. Canadians deserve a suitable, safe and efficient passenger train service, and this bill is the way to fill that need.
Before I forget, I have to say something about the hon. member for Ottawa South. He said that this was a way for the Conservatives to privatize Via Rail and that this was where they were going. I agree with that. That is what all their cuts to Via Rail are leading to. Nonetheless, the Liberals have no lessons to give on this, when they are the ones who privatized CN, a crown corporation. That is where it all started. When they privatized CN they also gave CN priority rights to the tracks.
Take the example of the train that runs between Halifax and Montreal, known as the Ocean. It is an important train for passengers. Our ancestors worked hard to build the railways. At the time, the idea was to develop our country and, at the same time, to provide passenger service for Canadians. I do not believe that our ancestors wondered whether they were going to make money with freight or passenger trains. That is not what they were concerned with. They wanted to give Canadians a service allowing them to travel from one end of the country to the other.
I will just give a small example of what is happening in my area, between Halifax and Montreal. Is it acceptable for the train that leaves Moncton at 3 p.m. to arrive in Bathurst at 8 p.m.? It takes about two hours to travel from Bathurst to Moncton by car. It takes five hours by train. Who wants to ride on a train travelling at 50 kilometres an hour? As everyone knows, there are no freight trains between Miramichi and Bathurst, and the speed limit is 50 kilometres an hour. If you travel by train often enough, you can watch the deer overtake it. Perhaps we could use it to go hunting. The current VIA Rail schedule is really ridiculous.
The government has a responsibility because it is not a private company. It is a crown corporation. I heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport tell us that the government should not intervene. It is as though he was saying that the company is already privatized. He is saying that the government does not want to pass legislation to bother VIA Rail. That is ridiculous.
I would like to thank the NDP members from Nova Scotia and Quebec, as well as my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, who worked very hard with us to secure the railway between Miramichi and Bathurst. If we had lost this railway, we would have lost VIA Rail between Halifax and Montreal.
We have to try to make them understand that if you take all the people on the Acadian peninsula and in the Gaspé, from Rogersville, Miramichi, Bathurst, Campbellton and Amqui, to Rivière-du-Loup and Rimouski, there are about 300,000 people. The government was eliminating that service. They kept saying:
It is arm's length from the government. We are not allowed to get involved.
It is funny that the $10 million was given by VIA Rail, but it was the minister who came to Fredericton to announce it. The member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe is the one who presented it and then the minister was thanked by the member for Miramichi. The entire Conservative family took credit for a crown corporation that they want to keep at arm's length.
The last person to speak was the president of VIA Rail, who practically thanked the minister for giving him the money. The train is important to us since it has always served the people back home without a car who have to go see a specialist in Moncton, Halifax or Montreal.
However, things changed two years ago when VIA Rail decided to reduce the number of trips to three days a week. Before, a person could leave Bathurst at 8 p.m., arrive in Montreal at 8 a.m. and see a specialist at one or two in the afternoon. Then, at 6:30 p.m., they could board the train back to Bathurst without having to pay for a hotel room in Montreal. This was done in one trip. It is inevitable that there are now fewer passengers on the train.
On Monday morning, because of the storm, I took the Bathurst train. The train left Bathurst at 5:30 a.m. Bathurst is an hour's drive from Campbellton. We got to Campbellton around 7 a.m. and had to stop to fill up with diesel. We were not able to go on until 11 a.m. There was a snowstorm, so I am not blaming VIA Rail, but would that be acceptable in France or the United States?
The bill introduced by my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine would give passenger trains priority on the tracks, but the Conservatives seem to think that is some kind of sin and believe that passengers should have the right of way to travel.
When I travelled to France and other places, I found that the passenger trains were given priority and that they were full. As a result, there are fewer cars on the road, which is better for the environment. That is not the case here. Not only are passenger trains not given priority, but the government does not care about them at all. The government is taking funding away from VIA Rail, saying that the company should be able to support itself and even make a profit.
That is not the vision that our forebears had for VIA Rail when they put trains on the tracks. They wanted to provide a service to all Canadian taxpayers. The politicians at that time were not thinking about taking money from taxpayers. Quebeckers and Canadians want this service. They do not mind contributing to a railway that runs from one end of the country to the other. It is shameful that the government is not supporting VIA Rail's projects. I am proud that the NDP members are saying that they will support VIA Rail.
The least they could do is vote to ensure that this bill can be studied in committee, where they can find a way to refocus VIA Rail's vision on providing services to Canadians. I am proud of the fight we led to maintain VIA Rail service between Halifax and Montreal. In Bathurst, Rogersville, Halifax, Campbellton and Miramichi, people spoke up to say that they wanted VIA Rail and passenger rail service. The government cannot ignore that. Let us hope that the government does not follow the example of the Liberals, who were champions of privatizing our crown corporations. As a result, we have now lost them all.
I sincerely hope that this bill passes at second reading and that it goes to committee so that we can hear from experts.
If the Conservatives cannot support it, it is because in their minds, this is just like Canada Post; they want to privatize all of our crown corporations. That is not the Canada I want to live in.
The Chair would like to take a moment to provide some information to the House regarding the management of private members' business.
As members know, after the order of precedence is replenished, the Chair reviews the new items so as to alert the House to bills which at first glance appear to impinge under financial prerogative of the Crown. This allows members the opportunity to intervene in a timely fashion to present their views about the need for those bills to be accompanied by a royal recommendation.
Accordingly, following the December 8, 2014 replenishment of the order of precedence with 15 new items, I wish to inform the House that there are two bills that give the Chair some concerns as to the spending provisions they contemplate.
These are Bill C-356, An Act respecting a National Strategy for Dementia, standing in the name of the hon. member for Nickel Belt, and Bill C-640, An Act respecting VIA Rail Canada and making consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, standing in the name of the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
I would encourage hon. members who would like to make arguments regarding the need for a royal recommendation for these bills, or any of the other bills now on the order of precedence, to do so at an early opportunity.
I thank hon. members for their attention.
Before we resume 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 Thunder Bay—Superior North, Employment; the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, The Environment.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Calgary Centre.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine. He has gotten right to the heart of the matter.
We are mainly concerned about the government's recent decisions to close French libraries in minority areas, including the library in Mont-Joli and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans library in Moncton. Some might say that Quebec is not a minority, but it is a minority within the Government of Canada, and we are losing francophone institutions.
I doubt that the government will close all the anglophone libraries in Canada, but it closed two francophone libraries. What is more, it wanted to close the only French-language marine rescue centre in Canada, which is located in Quebec City. It is thanks to the Commissioner of Official Languages and the work that he did that the government finally decided to allow that centre to remain open.
I am pessimistic because the Conservatives basically do not care. The Prime Minister likes to start his speeches in French but that is not what is happening out in the community. There is no end to the cuts. The Conservatives wanted to transfer the marine rescue centre to Trenton, Ontario, and Halifax.
Leadership needs to start at the top, not the bottom. We need to respect both official languages and examine the impact that these closures will have on official-language communities before we move ahead. That is not what we are seeing, and that concerns us.
I made the effort to move this motion today and talk about this report so that we can discuss it and so that people can learn about the problem. The legislation was passed in the 1900s and there are still problems in 2014. Judges still have to be told to inform the accused of their right to have a trial in the language of their choice. That is terrible.
It remains to be seen what the government will do, but I am pessimistic. I would like to be an optimistic MP who says that everything will be fine, that we all have a good relationship and that the minister has responded. However, this is not the first time there has been a report and the minister has responded to it. We still have the same problem.
The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.
I will begin by congratulating the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, neighbouring my riding of Acadie—Bathurst. These ridings share Chaleur Bay, which is recognized by UNESCO as one of the 10 most beautiful bays in the world.
I also thank him for his work on major issues, which we are also facing, since we share Chaleur Bay. For those who do not know, this bay has lobster. People like lobster. There are also all sorts of beautiful fish, as well as crab, and we want to protect them. We have a responsibility to protect them because they are fishers' livelihood. People also like to eat them.
I rise today to talk about 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.
Even though we support this bill at third reading, we are extremely disappointed that the Conservatives rejected our proposals to broaden the scope of this bill. We proposed amendments, unlike the Liberals. They wanted to propose some at second reading, but they missed the boat, to use a Maritimes reference.
Our approach shows that we are ready to make tangible and comprehensive changes to protect our coasts, whereas the Conservatives are not. I would like to expand on the Conservatives' lack of credibility when it comes to marine and air safety issues.
If the true purpose of Bill C-3 is to promote greater tanker traffic safety, why did the government not seize the opportunity to cancel the cuts in the latest budgets and the shutdown of marine safety programs?
The Conservative government wants to protect our coasts with this bill, but let us look at its record: the closure of the B.C. spill response centre, the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station and the gutting of environmental emergency response programs.
It does not make any sense for the Conservative government to cut programs at marine communications and traffic service centres and environmental emergency response centres, because we know that tanker traffic tripled between 2005 and 2010 and is expected to triple again by 2016. Pipeline expansion projects are also expected to increase crude oil shipments from 300,000 to 700,000 barrels a day.
When faced with these facts, it is difficult to believe that Canadians' concerns are really being taken seriously.
I would like to remind hon. members that the scaling back of Coast Guard rescue capacity and facilities has affected more than just British Columbia. The Conservative government has threatened to cut facilities across Canada, including those in the eastern part of the country. Most notable is its irresponsible decision to close the Newfoundland and Labrador marine rescue centre.
The Conservatives also planned to close the marine search and rescue centre in Quebec City, which, like the Newfoundland and Labrador centre, often conducts rescue and emergency relief operations. In fact, it responds to nearly 1,500 distress calls a year.
As a result of public protest and the hard work of my NDP colleagues, the Conservatives were forced to reconsider their decision to close the marine search and rescue centre in Quebec City, and it is still open today.
I would like to commend my colleagues and the people of Quebec, who stood up to show how important this centre is.
If the Conservatives really want to protect Canada's oceans with this bill, why not broaden its scope?
The measures that the NDP wants to see in a bill to safeguard Canada’s seas include reversing Coast Guard closures and the scaling back of services, including the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station.
We also want the Conservatives to cancel the cuts to the marine communication and traffic service centres, including the marine traffic control communications terminals in Vancouver and St. John's, Newfoundland. We have before us a bill that seeks to protect our oceans and tankers, but the government is closing the most important organizations for monitoring them.
We are also calling on the government to cancel the closure of British Columbia's oil spill response centre. It is unbelievable that the government would put forward this bill in the House of Commons and at the same time seek to close the oil spill response centre in British Columbia. Earlier, I was saying that crude oil shipments would increase from 300,000 to 700,000 barrels a day. Marine traffic is growing and the Conservatives are cutting the organizations that might be able to prevent catastrophes.
We are calling on the government to cancel cuts to the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research. The Conservatives even want to make cuts to a research centre. We are also calling on them to cancel cuts to key environmental emergency programs, including oil spill response in Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia.
It is scary. It is scary to see where the government is going with this. Canadians should be scared to see what is happening on the energy and oil fronts. It is not new, and each year we see an increase in the use of our rivers and oceans, both the Pacific and the Atlantic. The government is shutting down everything that has been put in place to protect and monitor these bodies of water.
We are calling on the government to reinforce the capacity of petroleum boards—which is currently nil—to handle oil spills, as recommended by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board needs to build in-house expertise to manage a major spill, including an independent safety regulator.
We want the Canadian Coast Guard to work collaboratively with its U.S. counterparts and conduct a parallel study to examine the risks additional super tanker traffic would cause in Canadian waters.
If the Conservatives really wanted to take marine safety seriously, they could have—and should have—expanded this bill. We know that the Conservatives are making these modest changes in an attempt to calm British Columbians' well-founded fears about new oil pipeline projects and the inevitable increase in oil tanker traffic that would result from new pipeline construction.
The people of British Columbia are right to be worried about potential spills resulting from the increase in tanker traffic. Oil spills have proven inevitable with oil tanker traffic. The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation has recorded nearly 10,000 accidental oil spills globally since 1970.
That should tell the government to be careful. Given all the cuts it has made in various areas, it is, as I said earlier, very scary.
The government needs to shoulder its responsibilities. This bill does not go far enough. We will support it because, while it is not much, it is better than nothing. However, it should go further.
Before we resume debate, I would like to clarify the point of order raised by the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
In fact, I have confirmed that when the House goes to questions and comments, it is at the discretion of the Chair as to who has the floor. As all hon. members will know, there is a standard rotation in this place that is followed as much as possible by the Chair. There are times when the Chair does not see a member rise, often in the corners or at the far end of the chamber, but the Chair is entirely within the right, after he has started to say a name or in fact has completed saying a name, to realize that it should have been another member. The Chair can at that point redirect the floor to the member in the rotation. In this case, particularly given that the hon. member who had the floor had stated in her speech that she wanted to receive a question from a government member, that was also part of my justification at that point.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for his question.
I would like to point out to him that Jean Chrétien's government is not in power right now. We have had a Conservative government for over eight years now.
Is the Conservative government not at all responsible for the situation of veterans and soldiers today? Why do the NDP not recognize the challenges and issues caused by this government's faults and failures?
This government spent four of its eight years in office making budget cuts in a secret, non-transparent way. That is why there is so much chaos in the armed forces and in veterans offices.
The last time the House considered this motion, the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant had eight minutes left for questions and comments.
The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
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.
I really have to remind the hon. member that it is against the Standing Orders to read petitions. Next time, I hope he will summarize it.
The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine
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 Terrebonne—Blainville, Privacy; the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, Veterans.
Resuming debate, hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine
It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Fisheries and Oceans.
The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for his question.
It is interesting that he mentioned that there are already agreements and that federal and provincial organizations in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador are working on this issue. This bill was negotiated between the federal government and these two provinces.
However, in cases where there is a disagreement between Quebec or other provinces and the federal government, I would urge the federal government to negotiate with them in order to solve this problem and make sure there are good agreements in place.
The question remains as to whether or not there should be development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Clearly, it would be good if there were agreements and boards as there are in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to work on this issue.
Mr. Speaker, I will keep my intervention relatively brief, as we look forward to the response from the government on the point of privilege that was raised in a very succinct and powerful way by my colleagues from Timmins—James Bay, as well as the opposition deputy House leader, the MP for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
I rise today, because in adding to this question of privilege we are now seeing official court documents clearly indicating, and we take this with the greatest of seriousness, that the Prime Minister deliberately misled the House this past spring. I will not repeat the numerous sources of precedents which my hon. colleagues cited on the seriousness of when a member of Parliament stands before the House and utters things that they know to be patently false.
In this case, either the Prime Minister directly misled us and Canadians, or allowed himself to be misled by his staff. Either way, this matter needs to be investigated in its proper place, at the procedure and House affairs committee, to get to the bottom of this evermore complex scandal that ties directly to the Prime Minister's own office and his inner circle of trusted advisors.
Here is what we learned today from documentation that is currently in the hands of the RCMP. On February 20, 2013, Senator Duffy wrote to his lawyer about the Prime Minister's Office. According to his lawyer, the documentation said, “Then Nigel called tonight. He was expansive, saying we [the PMO], had been working on lines and the scenario for you that would cover all of your concerns, including cash for repayment”. He also said, “We are working out this whole scenario for you, Senator Duffy, and the lines you are going to say publicly, and we are even going to pay for it”.
Now, these are court-filed documents. These are what the RCMP is currently investigating. However, what is important for us in this question of privilege is that with this information before us now as members of Parliament is that the Prime Minister's chief of staff informed Senator Duffy that the PMO was working on lines and the scenario for Mr. Duffy that would cover all of his concerns, including cash for repayment—obviously an offence under our statutes and laws—and that they were working out this whole scenario for him.
The government House leader wants us to believe that the Prime Minister did not ask his staff what was happening on an issue that was dominating the national media and certainly in question period in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister was facing these questions day after day from the Leader of the Opposition, and day after day he simply did not engage his staff on this question regarding Mr. Duffy and these illegal payments; he was the victim of his chief of staff's single-handed conspiracy against him and against the truth.
It is impossible to believe this rogue actor theory that it was Nigel Wright acting alone, when we have documents that continue to surface showing it was a coordinated effort in the Prime Minister's own office and that his own staff were involved in the cover-up.
We heard it just today. The evidence is completely contrary. This is a most serious matter, and it goes to the very heart of the principle of ministerial accountability, in this case, prime ministerial accountability. One cannot simply brush off the fact that one was caught in a lie by saying that the staff did not inform them and they only had half the information.
The principle of ministerial accountability means that ministers are accountable for what they say in this place with regard to their portfolio. With regard to the Prime Minister's own staff, with regard to the Mike Duffy repayment for cash and the cover-up that followed, it is undeniable that the evidence is mounting that the Prime Minister intentionally or unintentionally misled this House in the spring.
Parliament and Canadians deserve the facts. We can no longer fall to the lowest level of cynicism, that repeating talking points that emerge from the Prime Minister's office is somehow a replacement for the truth. That is simply not the case.
This matter of privilege, for all members of Parliament, not just the official opposition, but I would argue also for Conservative members across the way, needs to be addressed properly. It needs to be addressed succinctly. We can no longer operate under the cloud of a Prime Minister, and his most recent spokesperson standing in the House today repeating the falsehoods, hoping that by saying that all questions have been answered that it is as if all questions have been answered. That is not the case.
Mr. Speaker, I put forward this brief submission to you with the new evidence that we have been led to today, and I look forward to your ruling.
Order, please. I have two points.
First, I know we have been away from this place for many weeks, but I would remind all hon. members that they cannot use the names of other members while speaking in the House.
Second, while the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine had unlimited time to make his speech, members do not have unlimited time to pose questions. If there is a question, I would ask the parliamentary secretary to put it quickly.
The electoral district of Gaspésie--Îles-de-la-Madeleine (Quebec) has a population of 82,007 with 68,270 registered voters and 217 polling divisions.
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