Mr. Speaker, I would like to indicate at the outset that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Victoria.
Bill C-51 is now before us so that we can debate something that is of great importance to the people of Canada. I think its short title is the “anti-terrorism act, 2015”. There is a real question as to what it is really about.
In fact, The Globe and Mail, one of the oldest and most prominent newspapers in Canada, says:
On close inspection, Bill C-51 is not an anti-terrorism bill. Fighting terrorism is its pretext; its language reveals a broader goal of allowing government departments, as well as CSIS, to act whenever they believe limply defined security threats “may”—not “will”—occur.
That is a pretty fierce condemnation of a piece of legislation by what purports to be a serious government interested in dealing with terrorism.
Let us make no mistake. Terrorism is a real threat and everyone agrees that public safety is a top priority for any government. However, Canadians do not have to choose between their security and their rights. This is in fact a false choice presented to the people of Canada by the current government and by the Prime Minister.
When the member for Ottawa West—Nepean was announcing his retirement as foreign minister, he quoted John Diefenbaker that "Parliament is more than procedure—it is the custodian of the nation's freedom.”
I believe that is right. What we are doing here today on this side of the House is what we can and must do as parliamentarians to protect the freedoms of Canadians, because that is the issue here. The issue is that we need to have concrete measures that would keep Canadians safe without eroding our freedoms and our way of life. Unfortunately, time and time again, the current Prime Minister and the current government is putting politics ahead of principle.
Once again, The Globe and Mail stated, on February 1:
Under the cloud of fear produced by his repeated hyperbole about the scope and nature of the threat, he [the Prime Minister] now wants to turn our domestic spy agency into something that looks disturbingly like a secret police force.
Canadians should not be willing to accept such an obvious threat to their basic liberties.
Where does that come from? It comes from the provisions in the bill itself, which would give additional powers to CSIS that it does not already have and, arguably, does not need; and which would allow for information-sharing broadly between 16 government departments. The bill does not specify this would be limited in nature. It would cause problems that have been described and outlined by many prominent citizens—former prime ministers, former leaders of political parties, academics, legal expects, former justices of the Supreme Court of Canada—all of whom have condemned the legislation as going too far and giving unnecessary and dangerous powers to government agencies with a profound lack of parliamentary oversight.
The government's position on oversight is that we already have enough, that we have a robust system. We do not. We do not have any system of oversight for the Canada Border Services Agency. We have an appointed body, SIRC, that deals with CSIS, but it is not an oversight agency. It says so itself in its most recent report and it makes the distinction between oversight and review. It says it is a review agency that looks at things some time after the fact. It does not have oversight on a continuous basis over what is going on in the moment on the day. Therefore, it is not an oversight agency. It says so itself and recognizes that oversight is a different value and is required.
Its provisions have been put before the House to provide the kind of oversight that we could use, oversight that some of our Five Eyes friends have over intelligence. Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America have robust parliamentary or congressional oversight with the power to know what is going on and to keep an eye on things.
This has been rejected outright by the government. There was private member's bill, Bill C-622, that would have modernized a piece of legislation that was before the House in 2006, a piece of legislation that arose out of the committee that you, Mr. Speaker, sat on, along with the current Minister of Justice, who said at that time that this would be a desirable, necessary, and important measure to be undertaken. That bill died on the order paper, but Bill C-622, which proposed modernizing that legislation to some extent—which I am not saying we agreed with entirely—was before the House and was defeated by the government at second reading.
Also before the House is Motion No. 461, a motion that I presented to the House on October 24, 2013, calling for a special select committee of the House, like the one the Speaker and the Minister of Justice sat on, to devise the best and appropriate form of oversight by Parliament that might be required given the change in circumstances since 2004 and the experiences of other jurisdictions, for us to devise the best system for our Parliament.
Although it was offered up for debate, the government House leader refused to allow it to be debated, saying there was no necessity for any more oversight than already in place. That flies in the face of all the experts, the academic experts and people who have studied this time and time again, such as lawyers, judges, former leaders, and former prime ministers, who have all said that parliamentary oversight must be present in a system that protects the rights and freedoms of individuals in this country when we are dealing with this kind of legislation.
The bill is is extremely intrusive. It gives significant police powers, including the power to disrupt activities. I heard the Minister of National Defence—who all of a sudden is the spokesperson for Public Safety, as I do not know what happened to the Minister of Public Safety, who seems to have disappeared off the map since the new Minister of Defence was appointed—say several times over the weekend in various interviews that “No, no, no, we're giving powers to the judiciary, not to CSIS”. That is wrong. The power to disrupt in section 42 of the bill would be given to CSIS directly. It would only be when CSIS decided that whatever it wanted to do would actually violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that it would have to go a judge, and the judge supposedly would be allowed to tell CSIS that it could break the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I do not think that is constitutional. I do not think a judge can have a licence by legislation to violate the Constitution of Canada, which is what the bill would allow. That is how bad this legislation is. that in itself is enough to say that the bill is bad, wrong, unconstitutional, and cannot be supported. I will leave it at that.
Mr. Speaker, the renovations to Canada House are a testament to the enduring relationship between the United Kingdom and Canada. We can all be very, very proud of that.
I will tell members something else I am proud about. I am very proud that the member for Ottawa West—Nepean, a privy councillor and an outstanding foreign affairs minister, was there to open this house on behalf of Canada.
If the House would indulge me, without repeating all the very kind words that have been said, I want to pay my greatest respects to the outgoing Minister of Foreign Affairs.
In 1995, when he was first elected at the very young age of 25, I remember riding the bus to school and reading the article about this new member of the provincial Parliament from Ottawa West—Nepean, and I followed his career with great admiration and can say that I have very much enjoyed working with him in the House. He did not always make my job in the Chair easy, and members will miss his perambulations around the chamber during question period and other debates, and miss him for many other reasons as well.
I want to pass on my best wishes for the future to the outgoing minister.
Mr. Speaker, I will not repeat everything that my colleague from Ottawa Centre said about the minister. I agree with all of it. On behalf of the Liberal Party, I thank the minister for his two decades of service to Canada.
I thank him for his important contribution to Canada. I also thank him for serving the people of his riding, Ottawa West—Nepean.
As parliamentarians, we develop a bit of an instinct to know when some of our colleagues, perhaps, one day, lose the sacred fire, and the passion begins to wane. This is a very demanding profession.
However, I think this is why we were all so surprised to find out last night that the member was leaving us. If there is one person in this chamber whose passion never seems to have abated for one second, who always had fire in his eyes and who still has fire in his eyes, it is surely he. I think we were all completely taken aback to find out last night that he had made the decision to leave us.
The public knows the member to be ultra-partisan, having sometimes been called a bullhorn. He has done that job very well. I have had the privilege of also discovering the member whom the public knows less well.
The minister is approachable. We have conversed about a variety of subjects. He has always found the time to listen, and he has listened sincerely. I believe that particular trait is what I will remember about the minister for years to come.
I thank him for inviting the member for Ottawa Centre and me to join him last September to go to Iraq. That was a very important moment in foreign policy, and to have allowed us to join him demonstrated what is often lacking in this place, and that is putting down the gloves in the national interests and putting away partisanship.
The member for Ottawa Centre knows the member better, but this trip allowed me to know him in a way I did not know him before. It is one thing to operate in this chamber, where there is always the requirement for a certain formality and, let us face it, we are on different sides of the House.
When we went to Iraq together, I saw I side of his personality that I did not know very well before. Frankly, when one is on the front line, with the Kurdish army on one side and the Islamic State on the other, when one is talking to a family of refugees in a refugee camp, one behaves differently, and aspects of one's personality come out that do not usually come out in the House.
I thank the member for allowing me to see that side of him. Again, I am still trying to understand why he is leaving, but he has a bright future ahead of him and all of us wish him the very best because I think there are also still some great things that he will accomplish in his life.
I thank him for his service to this country, on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, let me start by saying how overwhelmingly optimistic I am about the future of this country, optimistic because over the past nine years, I have seen the stature of our country grow in the eyes of the world. The world has seen and come to know and to count on Canada's strength, strength created by sustained economic growth and by our enduring values, strength through our commitment to freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Simply put, the world has seen, in fact the world continues to see, the best that Canada has to offer.
When I joined my good friend Mike Harris back in 1995, I was perhaps just a little naive, driven by ideology, defined by partisanship, at the age of 25. I quickly learned, though, that to make a difference, to really make a difference, one cannot be defined by partisanship, nor by ideology. One needs, instead, to be defined by one's values. I believed then, and I continue to believe, that government has to be there for people and that through hard work, it can be a force for good.
When each of us chooses to enter public life, we do so united in one simple desire, the desire to leave behind a better country, a better province, and a better community and to pass on to the next generation a better place than the one we inherited from those who came before us.
Today, after serving 10 years in provincial politics, 10 years here in federal politics, in 10 ministerial portfolios, and with more grey hairs than I choose to admit, I can step back and say that we have an Ottawa that is vibrant and strong, a province whose future is bright and hopeful, with strong health care and an innovative and resilient workforce, and a country that is the best in the world. We led the G7 in job creation, and we have been a beacon of dependable light in a world that is ruled by far too many dark and stormy seas.
Today Canada stands tall in the world, united with our allies and partners in the fight against terror, side by side with the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, with strong relationships in the Arab world, firm in our objection to militaristic expansionism in Eastern Europe, an expanded diplomatic footprint in Asia, and strong trade ties that will create lasting prosperity for generations to come. Canada stands tall in the world.
Last night I spoke to the Prime Minister and informed him that I was standing down from cabinet. I expressed my intention not to run in the next general election in the new riding of Nepean. I also expressed my intention to stand down as member of Parliament for Ottawa West—Nepean in the weeks ahead.
I will miss this place very much, and many of the people in it, on all sides, but the time has come for me to start a new chapter in my life.
If the House will indulge me, I would like to extend my profound gratitude and admiration to a few individuals who really made a difference for me.
I wish to thank my family for always being at and on my side. It is never easy to see one's son, grandson, brother, or uncle under the public's microscope. Not only have they been my strength during the difficult times, they have kept me grounded during the good ones.
To the Prime Minister, in 2005, when I was a younger, somewhat thinner, provincial MPP, when many others counted him out, I believed in this Prime Minister, and I continue to believe in him today, all these years later. There is no better person to lead our country into its 150th year. He is one of our country's great leaders. I leave genuinely humbled to have enjoyed his confidence and truly honoured to have served with him, profoundly grateful to have sat in his cabinet all these years, and immensely proud of what we have been able to accomplish together for all Canadians. I am also distinctly privileged to count him as a friend and a mentor. I wish him and our party continued success for many years to come, and I look forward to campaigning for him and my colleagues in our party in the upcoming general election.
To all of my friends in this place, for a Canadian there is nothing more meaningful and nothing more special than to sit in the benches of this sacred House and to serve with all of them. I am grateful to them for their friendship, for their counsel, and for their wisdom.
John Diefenbaker once said that Parliament is more than a procedure; it is the custodian of the nation's freedom. There is no greater honour for a Canadian than to serve in this place, no greater honour than to serve the people who place their trust in us.
To my staff, past and present, it is said that behind any successful minister are great staff, and that is truly the case for me. I want to thank all of the staff and security in the House of Commons for their continued service to our democratic traditions.
To the public service in all the portfolios I have served in, and to our diplomats abroad, I leave with the feeling that my political career has been one of success in delivering real results for Canadians from coast to coast to coast. I thank all of them, from the bottom of my heart, for standing by my side and for their valued contributions to our country.
Finally, and most importantly, I thank the people of Ottawa West—Nepean, the people of Nepean, and the people of Ottawa. I am grateful for their continued trust, their vision, and their community. Their support over these past 20 years means more than I can ever convey in words. Being foreign minister was a tremendous experience, but I never took their trust for granted. I never forgot about our city. Every day I was reminded that it was they who put their trust in me and gave me this incredible opportunity. I was always committed to our people and its future.
I am so grateful for the volunteers in countless campaigns and riding associations, anyone who believed in me, in our party, in our government, and most importantly, in our message.
I stand before the House with many emotions. I am optimistic about Canada's future as a country. I am optimistic about my future and the opportunities that lie before me. At the same time, I am very saddened to leave this place behind. I am saddened to leave behind those for whom I care so deeply. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve my country, proud of the legacy of our government, and honoured to have had the opportunity to stand in this place.
May the true north stay strong and free, and may God bless Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to the issue of mining. One of the challenges is that when there are mining sites, with approved investment and a lot of capital put in, and we want to create or expand a national park, taxpayers will be required to buy out the mining rights. The families in Ottawa West—Nepean, which might be seniors on fixed incomes or families with two kids, would have to reach into their pockets to buy out the mining rights.
The second thing that would happen is that all the people who work in the mine would lose their jobs. That is why it is so tremendously important, particularly in the far Arctic, to preserve the best and most important parts of our country, these natural wonders, before there is mining there, before there is any destruction and before there are any problems. That way we can avoid this problem in the future.
That is why it is so important to get bills like this passed, so there is no new mining in areas that we want to protect.
Mr. Speaker, I represent a constituency, Ottawa West—Nepean, which has one of the fifth or sixth highest percentages of seniors. There is a good number of elderly women, many of whom do not have a defined benefit pension and rely on the public system. This is an issue that I follow very closely.
We could say that there is a certain attractiveness to expanding the Canada pension plan, but I say to the member opposite that it always comes down to how we are going to pay for it. Can Canadian employers afford to take on a not insignificant increase in payroll taxes? We know from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business that payroll taxes are the toughest on employers and on creating new jobs for small businesses and medium-sized enterprises in particular.
What do we say to the average Canadian worker, someone who is middle class and maybe making $35,000 or $40,000 a year, struggling to make ends meet? Their hydro bills are going up, particularly in Ontario. They are facing a tough go. Not all Canadians or Ontarians have the money to pay these increased payroll taxes, which they would be required to pay. It is not an issue of whether it is a payroll tax or a contribution, they do not have any cash in their pockets to put out. This is the case for many of the people that I represent.
While the idea has certain attractive elements to it, does the member not concede that there are far too many Canadians who simply do not have the money to be able to make increased contributions because they are having a tough time making ends meet today?
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed my privilege today to rise in this House for the purpose of expressing my support for Bill S-15 and, in particular, for taking the action necessary to protect Sable Island as a national park reserve under the Canada National Parks Act.
Throughout this debate and subsequent examination of Bill S-15 by a committee of the House, we are being asked to preside over an historic event: the creation of a new national park.
This is a unique opportunity for all the members of this House. In effect, we are being asked to make a clear and conscious decision to protect Sable Island for all time. We are being handed the opportunity to pass on to future generations this iconic island with its famed wild horses and important wildlife habitat. We are providing to our children a legacy of a natural area and all its inherent stories for them to enjoy and to pass on to the next generation.
It might seem at first glance that this is a rather short and inconspicuous piece of legislation, but in reality this is the key to ensuring that Sable Island will, as the dedication clause in the Canada National Parks Act states, be dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment and be maintained and made use of so as to leave it unimpaired for the enjoyment of many future generations.
I stand in this House in support of making that decision by speaking in favour of Bill S-15.
I can only imagine standing on the beaches of Sable Island, wondering how this island came to be. I can imagine asking how it is that in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean, perched on a lonely outcrop of the continental shelf, this sandbar survives all the ocean can pound it with.
How is it that so many ships came to their last port of call on Sable Island as one of hundreds of shipwrecks? How is it that horses and endangered birds survive on this desolate outpost of dunes and sparse vegetation? What sheer idealism moves some of the current residents to spend months out here, guarding this island on behalf of all Canadians?
I look forward to the initiatives that Parks Canada is going to undertake to share the rich story of Sable Island and to answer these and other questions.
Perhaps a more direct question to consider this evening as we debate the proposal to protect Sable Island under the Canada National Parks Act is how we got to the point of designating Sable Island as a national park forever.
Early conservation efforts regarding Sable Island were merely targeted and reactive. As we have heard, the government passed regulations as long ago as 1961 to protect the horses of Sable Island from being removed from the island. These were called the Sable Island Regulations, and they specifically protected the island through restrictions aimed at controlling access and controlling certain types of activities.
In the late 1960s, the Department of Transport put an end to plans to remove mineral-rich sands from the surface of this island, even after the entire island had already been staked.
The story goes on. A more forward-looking conservation approach to Sable Island was first adopted in 1977, when Sable Island was designated as a migratory bird sanctuary under the Migratory Bird Convention Act. The purpose of this designation was to protect migratory birds, including their nests and eggs, a very important thing to do.
However, a migratory bird sanctuary in itself does not protect the other wildlife species or their habitat on Sable Island. In addition, the regulations only apply when migratory birds are actually nesting, so they are not an effective conservation tool for the rest of the year.
Things continued to develop and, more recently, specific areas of the island have also been designated as “critical habitat” for the endangered roseate tern under the Species at Risk Act.
Then, in 1998, working with the Province of Nova Scotia and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada's Canadian Wildlife Service prepared a key document entitled “Conservation Strategy for Sable Island”. The overall goal was to set a framework for the preservation of the physical integrity and biological diversity of Sable Island. I note that it was initiated under a former government.
It was observed that the island had been used by humans for over 400 years and that this use had in fact changed the island, permanently altering its pre-contact ecosystem, yet it was time to develop a conservation strategy to define the environmental limits within which future activities should proceed.
In brief, the essence of the strategy was to protect the existing terrain from human-induced destabilization and to conserve the island's flora and fauna. That was 1998.
Of particular interest to our debate tonight is the part of the strategy dealing with the legal designation of Sable Island. The authors of the document observed that while the application of the Sable Island Regulations and the Migratory Birds Convention Act,
...have been relatively effective in protecting Sable Island, there are many parts of the island's natural environment which, at present, do not receive adequate protection under the law.
As a result, the strategy wisely recommended that enhanced legal protection should be sought that provides more comprehensive protection to the island's natural value. That is what we have been moving toward all of these years.
Finally, in June 2008, under the present government, work to designate Sable Island as a federal protected area was first announced by the hon. member for Ottawa West—Nepean. At that time, he announced funding under the health of the oceans initiative to maintain a year-round weather station on Sable Island.
I believe it is worth recounting the words of the hon. member from that day. This is what he said:
We believe that it is in the best interest of Canadians to ensure that Sable Island is preserved for generations to come.... Today's announcement is further proof of our Government's commitment to protecting and preserving our environment in Atlantic Canada.
These were prescient words, because with that announcement the journey to this very evening and to Bill S-15 was under way.
It was in 2009, as the Government of Canada and the Province of Nova Scotia were discussing progress on the protection of Sable Island, that the idea of protecting the island as a national park was first introduced.
In January 2010, the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding, an MOU, respecting the establishment of a federal protected area on Sable Island in the province of Nova Scotia. Finally, after all those years, a government was willing to move.
Recognizing that Sable Island possesses national significance, the two governments agreed to work together to determine if Sable Island should be protected as a national wildlife area under the Canada Wildlife Act or as a national park under the Canada National Parks Act.
By the terms of the agreement, the governments appointed a task force for the purpose of recommending which type of federally protected area should be embraced. This was going to be a well-thought-out process.
It is important to note that from day one of the process, the MOU between the two governments was clear that:
...no recommendation regarding the potential designation or creation of a federal protected area for Sable Island will have an adverse impact on Canada's or Nova Scotia's interest in offshore petroleum resources including those in the Sable Island area....
It was clear from the start that, no matter what type of protected area was recommended, it had to take into account the existence of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resource Accord Implementation Act, a mouthful, but really something that took precedence over all other federal legislation in this region, previously negotiated with the province, and of course it had to also take into account the role of the offshore petroleum board itself.
What came next in this rather fascinating history of development? It was on Earth Day, April 22, 2010, that the Canada-Nova Scotia Sable Island Task Force recommended to the Government of Canada and the province of Nova Scotia that Sable Island should be designated as a national park under the Canada National Parks Act. In comparing the two types of federal protected areas, the task force concluded that the national park designation would convey a number of additional public benefits.
First, as a national park, Sable Island would be protected and presented within a national network of national parks and would be recognized as one of Canada's premier natural and cultural icons.
Second, while petroleum resources would remain available to industry offshore, a national park places a stronger emphasis on the protection from exploitation and development of non-petroleum resources found in the subsurface of Sable Island.
Next, as a national park, the designation brings a stronger emphasis to the conservation and preservation of archeological and cultural resources, also an important factor.
Finally, the diversity of program objectives required in a national park, which include protection, visitor experience and engagement with stakeholders, would better serve to maintain a year-round human presence on the island.
In its conclusion, the task force noted something that many associated with Sable Island have come to learn, and that is the strong appreciation and passion and depth of interest that citizens share for the future of Sable Island. It was also clear through the work of the task force that all the sectors were committed to achieve a renewed future for Sable Island.
Perhaps that speaks to what we are trying to accomplish with Bill S-15, and that is a renewed future for Sable Island.
In May 2010, the two governments announced their decision to undertake consultations and to negotiate an agreement for the designation and protection of Sable Island under the Canada National Parks Act.
We might ask what the public thought of this idea, turning Sable Island into a national park. This is quite an important consideration as we consider the merits of Bill S-15. During the summer of 2010, Parks Canada held three open houses in Halifax, where more than 200 people attended. Many took the time to have in-depth discussions with Parks Canada staff and to submit written submissions, online submissions, emails, letters and telephone messages in response to Parks Canada's web page, newsletter and advertisements.
Members will be astounded to learn that Parks Canada received more than 2,800 responses, including 235 detailed submissions. As Parks Canada observed in its report on these consultations, the volume and quality of responses Parks Canada received are testament to the strong link that many Nova Scotians and Canadians across this country feel for this very special place. Furthermore, the agency noted, “Sable Island and its isolated sand dunes hold a special place in the hearts and minds of Canadians”.
Nova Scotians, among whom I have my roots, feel a particular tie to Sable, as it figures prominently in their history and looms large in their imagination.
The passion and great interest Canadians have in Sable Island was evident in the submissions Parks Canada received from across Canada and even from abroad expressing support and highlighting ideas, concerns and vision for the future of Sable Island as a national park.
What were the views of Canadians on the idea of designating Sable Island a national park? What did they have to say?
Well, in general, Parks Canada reported that Canadians support the proposed national park designation. They feel it is important to maintain the ecological integrity and protect the cultural resources of Sable. They are interested in visitor experience opportunities on the island that, however, are limited in scope and scale and well managed. They want off-island experiences and educational opportunities. Canadians are also seeking careful management of natural resources, including petroleum. Last but certainly not least, they are concerned about wildlife management.
Buoyed by the strong support that the consultations revealed for protecting Sable Island as a national park, officials moved to complete the negotiation of a memorandum of agreement for a national park at Sable Island. The next step in this great story is that on October 17, 2011, our Minister of the Environment and the minister responsible for Parks Canada joined with the hon. Darrell Dexter, Premier of Nova Scotia, in signing the national park establishment agreement.
Bill S-15 seeks to put into legislation many of the elements of that 2011 national park establishment agreement, including some very important things, which I will mention.
First of all, there would be a ban on drilling from the surface of Sable Island out to one nautical mile. Second, there would be a restriction of surface access rights for petroleum-related activities to only four very limited and very specific activities. Finally, there would be a requirement for the offshore petroleum board to consult Parks Canada should it consider authorizing even any of those four very limited activities.
In recognition of the Province of Nova Scotia's ongoing interest in the future of Sable Island, the establishment agreement also provides for a Canada-Nova Scotia committee to enable the province to provide input and advice respecting the operation of the national park reserve. In addition, subject to reasonable conditions, Parks Canada would permit Nova Scotia to continue to carry out environmental, climate change, weather and air monitoring programs on Sable Island as well as scientific research.
As we bring to a close this first part of the journey to renew the future of Sable Island, it is important not to forget those whose personal and professional dedication to this island has left us with this marvellous opportunity.
I am thinking of those officials at the Canadian Coast Guard, the Meteorological Service of Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service, who for decades watched over Sable Island for the rest of us.
I am also thinking of those individuals and organizations, such as long-time resident and volunteer guardian, Zoe Lucas, as well as the Green Horse Society and the Sable Island Preservation Trust.
I am thinking of the Province of Nova Scotia and companies like Exxon Mobil, which have acted in the public good by always keeping conservation of Sable Island in the forefront of their actions in this region.
I call on this chamber to thank the Province of Nova Scotia, which on May 10 of this year gave royal assent to its bill amending the legislation to put into place the legislated ban against drilling. It now rests with this chamber to complete our work so that both governments would be able to give effect to their respective acts, thereby finally protecting Sable Island in law under the National Parks Act.
I also want to mention that Parks Canada will continue its work with the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia.
In conclusion, I am very proud to have had the opportunity to speak in favour of Bill S-15 and to put on record my support for renewing the future of Sable Island as a national park reserve under the Canada National Parks Act.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to address the House this afternoon about the merits of economic action plan 2013.
I would like to especially thank the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister for La Francophonie for his kind words at the beginning of his speech.
Although the worst of the economic crisis seems to be behind us, the government's priority must continue to be the economy and job creation. In that regard, economic action plan 2013 is right on the mark.
When the recession struck the best country in the world in 2008, the government responded with a bold plan to invest in our infrastructure. The city of Ottawa and the district of Ottawa—Orléans have benefited greatly from this economic stimulus program.
We need only consider the construction of an east-west light rail in Ottawa, a total investment of $2.1 billion, $785 million of which is from the federal taxpayers through the building Canada plan and the federal gas tax fund.
What is more, this capital investment, which is the top and only priority of the City of Ottawa, will create 20,000 jobs a year until 2018.
I would like to take this opportunity to salute the member for Ottawa West—Nepean and Mayor Jim Watson and councillors Rainer Bloess, Bob Monette, Stephen Blais and Tim Tierney for their leadership in advancing this file.
We can also point to the investment of nearly $25 million for the first two phases of the Ottawa River action plan and of $6.7 million for the extension of the Hunt Club Road to Highway 417.
Thanks to the infrastructure improvement fund announced in January 2009 to help kick-start the Canadian economy, the people of Ottawa—Orléans have seen the delivery of 11 projects that directly affect them, at a value of over $11 million.
With an economic recovery that was lagging due to economic instability in other countries, the government understood that it had to meet the demands of municipalities and move ahead with another plan for long-term investment in Canada's infrastructure.
What economic action plan 2013 is proposing is $53 billion over 10 years.
Even though construction of Ottawa's light rail began only last week, elected officials and employees are already working on plans to expand it—even as far as the eastern end of Orléans.
This important project is close to my heart, and it could be supported by the building Canada plan and the community infrastructure improvement fund.
As you all know, linguistic duality is one of the values of this country that I cherish the most.
The French and English languages are integral to our history, our identity and our future. They are a treasure that must be defended.
This is a value dear to the hearts of the wise electors of Ottawa—Orléans, where about 30% of the population is French-speaking.
That is not to say that this value is not also important to the English-speaking residents of Ottawa—Orléans. When they come to settle there, they know that one of their immediate neighbours is going to be French-speaking and they regard this as an asset. They regard linguistic duality as an asset.
The government shares this way of thinking. In addition to supporting the spirit of Bill C-419, the language skills act sponsored by the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, the government has slightly increased the envelope of the roadmap for official languages, which stands at over $1.1 billion for 2013-18. This represents the most far-reaching investment in official languages in our history—an increase of 40% over the previous government's plan.
The new road map will continue to support the learning of English and French as second languages and will continue its support for minority school systems so as to foster the development of citizens and communities.
In an interview with L'Express, Ottawa's French-language weekly newspaper, Marie-France Kenny, the president of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada, said:
We are happy; this will provide important leverage. For us, it's a real feat for the communities, the minister and the Prime Minister to have managed to maintain funding under the roadmap. For us, it is proof of the importance attributed to linguistic duality and the hard work that has been done in our communities for a year and a half to make our priorities known.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage promised to listen to Canadians before renewing the road map. He toured the country, organizing 23 round tables, in two of which I participated. He delivered the goods.
A little earlier, I was saying that job creation had to continue to be the government's priority. Small and medium-size enterprises are the engine of the Canadian economy. SMEs are the backbone of the Ottawa—Orléans economy. Businesses such as SURE Print, Lacroix Source for Sports in Orléans, the Massage and Treatment Clinic and Cuisine & Passion have come to set up shop.
It is my pleasure to recognize André Lacroix, who has owned Lacroix Source for Sports for 40 years. A terrific businessman, he is equally effective at giving back to the community, and he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
These companies are very well represented by the Orléans Chamber of Commerce and its dynamic team, with its president, Dan Levesque, its board of directors and its executive director, Jamie Kwong.
In addition to reducing income taxes and cutting red tape, the economic action plan is proposing to expand and extend the hiring credit for small business for one year.
This measure, which has proven its worth in recent years, should benefit 560,000 SMEs.
Furthermore, we are going to increase the lifetime capital gains exemption from $750,000 to $800,000, and then we will index it. This positive measure will improve the return on investment in small businesses by making things easier for entrepreneurs who want to pass on the family business to the next generation of Canadians.
The fate of our soldiers and veterans is very important to me. These brave people have sacrificed so much that our country can enjoy the benefits of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We owe our freedom to them. I see them often, especially when I go to my weekly Saturday breakfast at the Royal Canadian Legion in Orléans.
Economic action plan 2013 contains measures to support these important people.
We are suggesting an investment of $1.9 billion over seven years to ensure that our disabled, ill or aging veterans and their families receive the support they need.
We are also proposing to double the reimbursement ceiling for the funeral and burial program. It is the least we can do to offer dignified funeral services for those who have lost their lives defending our country.
Families and communities are not being left behind. We are proposing to invest $1.9 billion over five years to create more affordable housing and to combat the unfortunate phenomenon of homelessness. We would also like to support families who want to adopt a child by granting them tax relief.
Economic action plan 2013 is a reasonable plan that will help our country prosper in spite of these uncertain times.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great sadness that I announce the passing of a good friend to many on Parliament Hill, Krystyna Rudko.
Krys was a loyal and respected friend who touched the lives of many. A long-time resident of Ottawa West—Nepean, Krys was internationally recognized for her communications and public policy work. However, her passion was always politics, and she spent many years serving within Conservative circles, taking on leadership roles both at the federal and provincial level.
Always a professional in her career, Krys was just as diligent in her personal life, caring deeply for her friends and community. She served as director of many groups such as the National Capital Opera Society, Canadian Nature Federation and Kiwanis Club.
Krys was also a devoted daughter and cared deeply for her parents, caring for them in their elder years. She was very proud of her Ukrainian heritage and every year hosted a Ukrainian Easter for her neighbours and friends.
Our condolences are extended to friends and family of Krystyna Rudko. She will be missed.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for recognizing me.
It is a great pleasure for me to discuss Bill C-38 this evening.
The United States and especially Europe are in grave trouble. Canada's economy has emerged from the global recession much better than other industrialized countries, especially those in Europe.
Because this government has done its homework since its first victory in 2006, the 2012 election was the first in Canadian history that a government won following a recession. I had voted against holding that unnecessary election.
Those on the other side who had voted for the dissolution of the 40th Parliament remind me of turkeys who vote for an early Christmas. Through this election, voters gave us a clear mandate to keep up the good work with the economy and balance the books as quickly as possible. Canadians want jobs to be created and that is what they expect from us.
Locally, Ottawa roughly had 542,200 people employed at the beginning of the month of May 2012. Between April and May 2012, Ottawa witnessed a drop in unemployed by 9,000, which led to a decrease in unemployment by a tenth of a percent. Since October 2010, the unemployment rate has dropped by an eighth of a percent.
In accordance with the information presented in the 2012 economic action plan, this government has established that it would be near a balanced budget in 2014 and that a balanced would be obtained in 2015.
It is crucial that we return to a balanced budget. It is only under these circumstances that our government can continue to make important investments.
In Ottawa, there is no lack of projects waiting to happen. The cities of Ottawa and Gatineau are calling for a new interprovincial bridge at Kettle Island. The National Capital Commission is currently holding public consultations on this matter. In fact, it held a public hearing yesterday at the Shenkman Arts Centre next door to my constituency office.
On the topic of transportation networks, another project will remain at the centre of discussion for the city over the next few years. July 13, 2011, the City of Ottawa adopted a motion presented by councillor Stephen Blais, to extend the route of the light rail transit towards the east as quickly as possible.
The 2008 transportation master plan does not call for extending the light rail line from Blair station to Trim Road before 2031.
By bringing this motion forward before the master plan is reviewed, the city council is ensuring that the feasibility study for the Orleans LRT extension can be completed as soon as possible so that residents from the east end can have access to light rail sooner. For that, Councillor Blais and his partners, Councillor Rainer Bloess, Councillor Bob Monette and Councillor Tim Tierney deserve kudos.
And Ottawa–Orléans is the North American leader in respect to the use of public transit.
If we want major infrastructure projects like these to become reality, both in Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada, we need to balance the budget. It is always easier to make investments with a healthy financial position than with a deficit.
In 2012, federal support for the provinces and territories reached a record high and will continue to rise.
In 2012-13, Ontario will receive record support through major federal transfers, most of which is earmarked for health and will provide this province with $19.2 billion.
This investment represents a 77% increase in transfers relative to those made by the previous government. Even if the government, under the mandate of its Canadian electorate, tightens its belt, its methodology differs from the previous government, now a third party in the House of Commons.
They had slashed the transfers to the provinces. They had slashed the funds reserved for health and education. They had forced the provinces to lay off nurses and teachers.
In addition to drastically cutting funding to the public sector, the previous government balanced the budget on the backs of the provinces, while this government continues to increase its share of federal transfers, therefore towards health care, and proposes a 2% decrease in budget spending in the public service. The previous government had cut tens of thousands of jobs from the public service in one fell swoop.
Our approach is incremental. This means that, despite what doomsayers predicted, job losses have been far less significant than certain predictions would have had us believe, the worst of which predicted that 60,000 public servants would be shown the door.
We are now talking about cutting 4,800 jobs in total in the national capital region in the next three years, and that is after increasing the number of public servants by 13,000 over the past five years.
Despite everything, this decision was not made lightly. We have one of the most competent public services in the world.
But, when we look elsewhere, things do not look so bad here. We are far from the situation in Greece, where 15,000 public-sector employees were cut, and an additional 30,000 people were temporarily laid off.
We are far from the situation in Italy, which almost went bankrupt before an interim government resolved to take the measures deemed necessary. Since then, Italy has increased its sales, housing and property taxes. These are things we are not doing.
Since 2006, the Canadian government has kept its word regarding taxation. Canadian taxpayers today are paying less tax than at any point in the last 30 years.
The budget we are now debating today strongly supports world-class innovation and research. This government believes in innovation. On March 27, I was pleased to announce that nearly $1 million would be allocated for an IT professional mentoring program to encourage primary and secondary school students in Ottawa to take an interest in science and innovation.
I see this measure as a great opportunity for the National Research Council of Canada, located at the doorstep of Ottawa–Orléans.
The good and wise people of Ottawa—Orléans know of my unfailing support for scientific research and development. In this budget the Minister of Finance has taken action on the Jenkins report and is investing $1.1 billion in direct support for R and D and $500 million in venture capital.
Small and medium-sized enterprises are at the core of the Canadian economy and that of Ottawa–Orléans.
Constituents, who on three occasions have given me the honour to serve them in the House, can count on dynamic small businesses. The Orléans Chamber of Commerce alone counts on the support of over 200 members.
Before the budget was drafted, businessmen and businesswomen in Orléans took part in a brainstorming session that I chaired, along with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, my friend from Ottawa West—Nepean.
The owners of two SMEs in Ottawa–Orléans, Access Print Imaging and Sure Print & Graphics, shared their ideas, as did Joanne Lefebvre, chair of the Regroupement des gens d’affaires de la capitale nationale, and Jo-Anne Bazinet, chair of the Orléans Business Club.
I am sure that they will be pleased, as will other dynamic members of the Orléans business community, with the important measures we have put forward in Bill C-38. Our government recognizes the vital role that small businesses play in the economy and job creation.
The 2012 economic action plan provides several key measures to support them in their growth.
The hiring credit for small business, a credit of up to $1,000, has been extended. This measure will benefit up to 536,000 employers.
Everyone knows red tape hinders efficiency. It was a point raised at the round table I chaired along with the member for Ottawa West–Nepean.
The government has committed to cutting red tape. It has established the one-for-one rule and pledged to create a red tape reduction plan--
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin on a general note, for Canadians who might be watching or following this debate, to try to perhaps slow down the pace of the detail being presented on all sides of the House and remind Canadians what is at stake here.
What are we talking about this evening? Why have so many amendments been produced and presented for voting very shortly? Why is all this kerfuffle happening about this budget bill?
For everyday Canadians who are busy leading just-in-time lives, raising their kids, paying their mortgages or rent and looking after loved ones, this is very complicated, but there are some simple facts that are worthy of communication for them this evening.
First, this budget document is 425 pages in length, has 753 clauses and is changing or doing away with 70 different laws that exist today in Canada. Here are a few of the things it would do in unprecedented fashion, because it is not an economic document and it is certainly not an economic transformative plan, as the minister would have us believe.
It would rewrite Canada's environmental laws, 40 years in the making. In this draft budget, they are gone.
It would break the Conservative government's election promise by raising the age to qualify for the old age supplement from 65 to 67 years of age. Does any Canadian remember hearing that in the last election campaign? Did the government run on that platform?
It would create uncertainty for our seasonal industries with changes to employment insurance, something I will come back to momentarily.
It would hurt Canada's international brand by tearing up 100,000 immigration applications with the stroke of a pen. The 100,000 human beings waiting for their immigration applications to be processed would now be out of luck.
It would impose the Conservatives' unilateral decision to reduce health care transfer payments to the provinces and territories. Did they run on that platform? No. Did they consult or negotiate with the provinces? No.
In this bill they are targeting charities that they disagree with. Did they run on that in their platform?
They are eliminating groups such as the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Rights and Democracy and the National Council of Welfare, all groups the Conservatives disagree with. Did they run on those promises? No.
They would be reducing the Auditor General's oversight on a number of government agencies, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Northern Pipeline Agency. How can that be a good thing?
It is reducing democratic oversight of our spy agency, CSIS, by abolishing the Office of the Inspector General.
It would repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, eliminate a number of the government's reporting requirements on climate change and public service jobs and make changes to parole hearings. Every expert who testified warned that changes to parole hearings are unconstitutional.
In short, it is anti-democratic. They are using a single omnibus budget bill to limit debate and ram these unrelated measures through Parliament. That is what this debate is about, for Canadians who are watching.
However, it is no surprise for those of us who lived through the first incarnation of the republican government in Ontario, which has ended up here. That is because the technique that was perfected in Ontario to create omnibus bills began under former premier Mike Harris and was perfected by our present-day Minister of Finance.
Let us focus on the old age supplement as an important issue for a moment. The Conservatives are breaking their election promise, as I said, by raising the age for OAS from 65 to 67. They are ignoring the advice of the OECD, Canada's chief actuarial officer, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and even the government's own experts, who have all agreed and all testified that change is not necessary because our OAS program is already sustainable. This would hurt rural Canadians, and single women in particular, who disproportionately depend on OAS and GIS.
It also hurts our physical labourers who cannot continue working. Forty percent of our OAS recipients earn less than $20,000 a year, and more than half earn less than $25,000 a year. In my riding of Ottawa South, it is no different.
This change would hurt Canada's most vulnerable seniors the hardest. It is just not right; our seniors, who have invested so much in our country, need our support now more than ever.
Let us turn to the changes under employment insurance. What have we heard? We did not hear how these changes will help solve skilled labour shortages. We did not hear how many of the current 250,000 job openings would be filled because of these changes. We did not hear how these changes will assist the 1.4 million Canadians who are out of work. We did not hear that Canadians had been consulted about these changes. We did not hear how they will help communities and workers who only have seasonal industries to foster more full-time industries.
These changes brand those who require EI during recurring periods of no-fault job loss as “repeat offenders”, in the government's language. Can members imagine thatv if people are on in EI in Canada, they are repeat offenders?
Those people had better watch out. The changes would force them to take a 30% pay cut in a lower-skill job outside of their area of training. The changes would force people to take jobs further away from home, thereby incurring higher costs for a low-skill job that pays less. Boy, that makes sense in the 21st century.
It is policy created on the fly. The Conservatives did not have a plan or a rationale for the changes. They had no information, no facts, no analysis, just a belief that EI claimants are lazy and abuse the system.
They have a desire to penalize seasonal workers and industries. It is reminiscent of the member for Ottawa West—Nepean's press conference in Ontario several years ago, when as a minister in the Harris regime he took a box of syringes, dumped them onto the floor in front of the cameras and went on to explain that the reason the government was pushing Workfare so hard was that all welfare recipients in Ontario were shooting their cheques up their arms. That is the kind of character at play here, a character that is still there.
If members do not take my word for it, let us listen to what the media has to say about the budget.
The Globe and Mail said, “The budget bill contains too much for adequate consideration by Parliament.”
The Halifax Chronicle Herald called it “a steamroller of sweeping change, from the streamlining of environmental regulations to the reform of old age security and EI”, and called it “anti-democratic”. The paper stated that “the monster budget bill introduced last week is an omnibus bill on steroids” and went on to say, “It's also nonsense to pretend one debate, one committee review and one vote will allow Parliament to competently examine this legal spaghetti.”
The Toronto Star said, “This reeks of hypocrisy.” It also stated:
This is political sleight-of-hand and message control, and it appears to be an accelerating trend. These shabby tactics keep Parliament in the dark, swamp MPs with so much legislation that they can't absorb it all, and hobble scrutiny. This is not good, accountable, transparent government. It is not what [the Prime Minister] promised to deliver.
The Montreal Gazette stated, in speaking of Bill C-38, “If more Canadians understood it, they would be horrified by the lack of time allotted to its consideration.”
The Winnipeg Free Press stated:
Under the...Conservatives, however, parliamentary committees, like Parliament itself, are mere toys of the party in power, routinely gagged the moment an opposition MP moves a motion.
We have certainly seen that behaviour.
The Ottawa Citizen asked this simple question: “What's the rush?”
It goes on and on.
The National Post stated:
As you remove the outer layers of the bill, you discover potentially far-reaching policy shifts that have no business being in any budget, far less being scrutinized by the finance committee.
Perhaps to close, my favourite, published just some hours ago at 6:20 p.m. this afternoon, from Postmedia:
Their primary justification for the omnibus bill—that all its measures together form an integrated, coherent vision and plan of economic transformation—is demonstrably nonsense.... How can reforms to the Parks Canada Agencies Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the elimination of the office of the inspector general for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service possibly be interpreted as economic?
It goes on to conclude, asking this question:
Why bother wasting time with the bothersome business of committee review and public debate? ...It would be far more efficient, certainly cheaper, for the prime minister to rule by decree.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House on the third reading of Bill S-4, the safer railways act.
Before I begin, allow me to congratulate my colleagues across the entire chamber for the successful manner in which this bill has been discussed, debated, analyzed and moved to this point.
I thank the hon. member for his applause and I want him to feel free to interrupt my comments with his applause at any time.
I hope he will join me in applauding our Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, who has proven himself to be a quiet, diligent builder in the true Canadian sense. We see the success he has had in moving forward with a plan to build a new bridge, a replacement of the Champlain Bridge over the St. Lawrence. That bridge is going to be at a minimal cost to taxpayers and at a higher quality for the residents of Montreal and the many people who pass through that corridor from right across Canada.
The minister is succeeding in building linkages with our friends south of the border in the hopes that we will have a Detroit-Windsor bridge. He has moved this bill on railway safety quietly but quickly through the House of Commons, and he has also worked with municipal partners toward the eventual development of a replacement for the building Canada fund, which will expire in just a few years. We all have a lot to celebrate when we look at the record of this Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
The bill in front of us deals with one of the few legitimate roles of government, and that is to protect the safety and security of the person. Canada has one of the strongest rail safety regimes in the entire world. Last year we saw reductions in accidents on the railroad by 23%, and derailments dropped by 26%. Obviously there is a lot more work to do. Until such time as there are no accidents whatsoever, we must continue to work with industry and in partnership with government to have the strongest and best laws to ensure safety.
It gives me great pleasure to say that committee members have thoroughly re-examined this bill and have given their unanimous approval for the second time, exactly as it was received, with no further changes. It has been a long journey, but our final destination is in view. This important piece of legislation reflects our desire to ensure that our national railway system remains one of the safest in the world for the long-term benefit of our economy, our communities and our environment. The safety and prosperity of Canadians is always a priority for our government.
Before going further, I would like to remind members about the origin and the intent of this bill. In late 2006, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities appointed an independent panel to review the Railway Safety Act and make recommendations for improving both the act and railway safety in general.
Through 2007, this panel travelled from the Atlantic to the Pacific gathering input from a very broad spectrum of stakeholders, including the railway companies, their associations, the railway unions, shippers, suppliers, municipalities, other national organizations, levels of government and the public.
The end result of these extensive national consultations was a final report with more than 50 recommendations for improving safety in the rail industry. While the rail safety review was in progress, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities undertook a complementary study of railway safety in Canada. After hearing extensive comments from municipalities, industry and labour, the committee accepted 56 recommendations of the Railway Safety Act panel and tabled its own report with 14 recommendations, many of which were built on those in the Railway Safety Act review.
Some of those amendments proposed in the bill before the House today are a direct result of the standing committee's extensive work in this regard. I heartily thank its members for their dedicated efforts.
In short, Bill S-4 is our Conservative government's detailed response to those two national reviews. The amendments it proposes would significantly modernize the current act to reflect changes in the industry and ultimately to increase the level of safety for the benefit of our generation and those to come.
First and foremost, Bill S-4 would provide stronger oversight and enforcement capacity to Transport Canada through the introduction of railway operating certificates and monetary fines for safety violations as well as an increase in existing judicial penalties to reflect the levels found in other modes of transportation.
Throughout all our stakeholder consultation and committee examinations of these amendments, we heard strong support for the implementation of the safety-based operating certificates for all railways that run on federal tracks. These certificates, which would significantly strengthen Transport Canada's oversight capacity, would ensure that companies must have an effective safety management system in place before beginning operations.
Companies that are already in operation would be granted a two-year grace period to meet the requirements of the certificate. This includes all federally regulated railways as well as several of our largest national transit systems that use hundreds of miles of federal track and carry millions of Canadians to and from work daily. Increased safety for these travellers would be a significant benefit for businesses, communities and families.
Many stakeholders also expressed strong support for the introduction of monetary penalties and an increase in the judicial fines for serious contraventions of safety regulations. Monetary penalties already exist in other modes of transportation. They serve as a complementary enforcement tool and provide additional leverage on companies that continue to persist in safety violations.
This is consistent with the principles of minimizing regulatory burden for Canadians while at the same time promoting compliance. In that sense, we want to streamline and focus our rules so they cause a minimal encumbrance to the passenger and the business while punishing violations with serious monetary fines to discourage non-compliance.
In the interest of fairness for all, the proposed penalty scheme would allow for a review of the regulator's penalty decisions by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. It would also include provisions related to the minister's decision to impose a penalty, the due process to be followed, the review of decisions by the appeal tribunal and the level of fines to be paid for non-compliance and infractions.
The maximum levels of these penalties would be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation, which is consistent with similar schemes for other modes of transportation. The proposed increase in judicial fines, which were originally established 20 years ago, would also strengthen Transport Canada's enforcement options and bring those fines to a level currently found in the other modes of transportation, as I mentioned earlier.
Maximum judicial fines for convictions on indictment for a contravention of the act would increase from $200,000 to $1 million for corporations and from $10,000 to $50,000 for individuals. Maximum fines on summary conviction for contravention of the act would increase from $100,000 to $500,000 for a business and from $5,000 to $25,000 for an individual.
These amounts are consistent with those established for federal air and marine transportation and transportation of dangerous goods. Those modes of transportation are comparable enough to ensure that they would work in this mode of rail transportation. They are large enough to effectively deter contraventions.
The bill also provides for a significantly stronger focus on the importance of railway accountability and safety management systems, which both industry and labour applaud and support.
With these amendments in place, railway companies would be required to appoint a designated executive responsible for all safety matters. They would also be required to provide whistleblower protection for employees who raise safety concerns. Besides increasing our level of protection from accidents and oversights, these amendments would ensure the growth of a strong and lasting culture of safety in the railway industry.
On the administrative side, the bill would effectively close the gaps in the existing act by clarifying the minister's authority on matters of railway safety. It would expand regulation-making authorities, which would enable Transport Canada to require annual environmental management plans from the railways as well as a requirement for railways to provide emissions labelling on equipment and emissions data for review.
The safer railways bill is all about better oversight, improved enforcement tools, enhanced safety management systems and better environmental protection. These are the things we need. These are the things we applaud. I think my hon. colleagues would agree that these are the things we can all support.
In sum, these proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act would improve rail safety in Canada for the long term. They are the culmination of two important studies and extensive consultations. They would provide increased safety for Canadians and Canadian communities, economic benefits to the industry by decreasing the likelihood of costly accidents and delays, and a variety of benefits to external stakeholders, including provinces, municipalities, shippers and the travelling public.
Last but not least, these amendments would provide additional support for a stronger economy, a modern infrastructure and a cleaner environment for all Canadians.
With the House's support of these amendments, the government's ability would be enhanced to effectively regulate companies in an environment of continued growth, free enterprise competition and increased complexity. We would have the ability to ensure the safety of not only the passenger but the motorist and the pedestrian and the communities through which these trains travel. Improvements to Transport Canada's regulatory oversight and enforcement programs would be limited. The pursuit of new safety initiatives with respect to the management systems and environmental management would be badly constrained without these changes.
Without the support of the House, the legislative framework for railways would also remain inconsistent with other transportation modes, which have a broader range of enforcement tools. Regulation-making authorities could not be expanded to allow for the creation of safety-based operating certificates.
Without the support of the House, we would ultimately be looking at greater long-term costs to Canadians due to continuing fatalities, serious injuries and damage to valuable property and the environment.
Happily, it appears we do have the support of the House. All members of the House would agree that because of this cross-party consensus and the passage of the bill into law imminently, the Canadian public would be safer and the industry and its workers would be stronger.
Canada has one of the most dispersed populations in the world and it is the second biggest country on earth. Our railways have 73,000 km of track stretching from coast to coast and more than 3,000 locomotives handle more than 4 million carloads yearly. They operate more than 700 trains per day, moving nearly 70 million passengers and 75% of all service freight in this country. Railways have been the backbone of our economy since the days of John A. Macdonald and Confederation. They were the foundation of our national growth in the past and they remain integral to our prosperity in the future.
It is timely and forward-looking legislative amendments such as these that will ensure our rail industry remains a safe, secure and dependable component of our national infrastructure and global economy for many years to come.
In 2009, our Conservative government affirmed its commitment to safe, reliable transportation systems by investing in rail safety systems and putting the right kinds of rules into place. These amendments to the Railway Safety Act that we have before us today are the fruit of that commitment.
Since the launch of the Railway Safety Act review in 2006, our government has worked continuously with stakeholders, through the Advisory Council on Railway Safety, joint technical working groups and individual consultations across the country, to ensure that this bill meets the needs of all the parties engaged in this industry.
The net result is a strong, forward-looking bill that updates existing regulatory authorities, brings railway legislation in line with other modes and significantly improves the safety of our railway system for the benefit of all.
I will mention some of the leaders who played a role in the early stages of this process. I think of then minister Chuck Strahl, or Lawrence Cannon, two members who have now moved on to other career pursuits but who served as ministers of transport. I think of the hon. member for Ottawa West—Nepean, now our Minister of Foreign Affairs, who also served in the capacity of transport minister. I think of our current minister who, as I highlighted earlier, has achieved a record of quiet, diligent results in this and in many other areas.
The bill demonstrates the ability of our majority Conservative government to get things done. To continue to preserve our free enterprise economy while protecting the security of the person is one of the fundamental responsibilities of government. Together, as we focus on the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, which is a plan for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, and as we build upon the free market foundations that made this country what it is today, I encourage all members to support these common sense changes to improve rail safety and keep commerce moving across our tracks for the future and for all of us.
The electoral district of Ottawa West--Nepean (Ontario) has a population of 109,735 with 84,427 registered voters and 245 polling divisions.
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