Statement made on 12 May 2009 by Senator William Rompkey (retired)
Hon. Bill Rompkey:
Honourable senators, I want to say a few words about this bill because it is a bill that I will support and I think many others will as well. However, there are things that need to be said.
I listened carefully to Senator Lang's comments, and I want to associate myself with much of what he said. I am glad there is someone from the North sponsoring the bill and who has some real experience of living and working there.
I want to pick up on a couple of points that Senator Lang made. He said:
In the past, Northerners have seen federal governments come and go. Far too often, lip service was given to the needs of the North during the course of national elections.
I think that is true, and I think both parties are perhaps guilty of that. Now is the time for action. I hope that we will see more than simply lip service to this initiative.
The honourable senator went on to say that it was important as a "symbolic piece of legislation." I hope we do not just leave it there and let it be a symbolic piece of legislation.
Therein lie the caveats that we have to apply. It is fine to have a law, but we must be able to enforce that law. The law does not mean much unless we can somehow enforce it and show that we are prepared to enforce it, and I think therein lies the weakness, not in this particular bill, but in policy at the present time.
The bill amends the definition of Arctic waters in the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, and it extends those waters from 100 nautical miles to 200 nautical miles, and let the record show that Senator Angus thinks that this amendment is a good thing.
Thank you for that intervention, senator. Does the honourable senator want to speak on the bill? Let the record show that Senator Angus wants to participate in the debate and is now participating in the debate but not eating into my time. None of my time is affected by Senator Angus' intervention, honourable senators.
Now Senator Meighen wants to participate in the debate. Does Senator Meighen want to debate Senator Angus? It is not my time; it is your time.
Anyhow, they want to extend the area from 100 miles to 200 miles, and I remind honourable senators that this piece of legislation was brought in by Prime Minister Trudeau when he was Prime Minister of the country. It was in response, I think, to the Manhattan voyage through the Northwest Passage, and both governments have taken even-handed positions, shall we say, as to the transit of American ships through the Arctic. That is how this act came about.
Senator Lang said that the potential for resource extraction in the area is thought to be approximately 14.7 billion barrels of oil and approximately 433 trillion cubic feet of gas. The main point is that there are untapped resources in the Arctic and people will go there, as I said a few days ago, not to look at the polar bears and not to fish and see the scenery. A number of countries including our own want to exploit the resources there. However, that is our territory. It is not the preserve of other countries.
I return to my first point that if we are to make the Arctic ours, we have to be there with a presence that is able to enforce this particular law. The resources are there. What if those resources are exploited and there is an oil spill? Are we able to do anything about that situation? We have an act; we have a law, but can we enforce that law? Where is the evidence? Caches of equipment are spread throughout the Arctic to deal with this enforcement, but is there a strategy? Is there anyone up there who knows what to do with those caches and can do something effectively? I think the answer is no. That answer was confirmed for me by officials from Transport Canada.
We do not have an adequate presence in the Arctic for oil spills, search and rescue or surveillance, and we must. We must move our administration, our role in the Arctic, closer to the Arctic.
We were amazed, for example, to learn that the Canadian Coast Guard in Iqaluit reports to Sarnia, Ontario. That situation might have been a good idea in the 19th century; it might even have been a good idea in the 20th century; and God bless Sarnia, Ontario, but it does not make sense to have the Canadian Coast Guard in the Eastern Arctic reporting to Sarnia, Ontario. I bring that kind of evidence to honourable senators when I say we must get serious about having an effective Canadian presence in the Arctic.
In search and rescue, we heard testimony about what happens if a plane goes down in the Arctic now. The testimony was not about this particular bill but it is relevant, I believe. John Amagoalik, who is known as the Father of Nunavut, was in a plane crash in the middle of winter, in the Arctic. The fixed wing aircraft located him but could do nothing about it until a helicopter came from Trenton, Ontario. They would have had to stop and refuel in Goose Bay. The fact is, we need those resources in the Arctic to do the job we want to do.
Senator Lang talked about how the strategy of the government is based on four pillars. First is northern economic development. That is true. We have to make the point that if we are talking about northern economic development, we have to acknowledge first the people who live there: the Inuit. They have lived there for thousands of years and have harvested the resources, both on land and on water, for thousands of years. They must be involved in economic development. They must be full partners in developing the economy.
A number of the recommendations that have been made for developing that economy have not been fulfilled. For example, seven wharves were recommended for Nunavut. Not one has been built yet. One for Pangnirtung has been promised, and I think money has been allocated for it. Those of us who come from the Atlantic area were amazed when we went to Nunavut. Each of us represents communities in Atlantic that have wharfs and breakwaters. These wharves and breakwaters are a given. Our job as representatives here in Ottawa is to see they are repaired and kept in shape, not built. They are there in the Atlantic but there is not one in Nunavut.
If the Inuit are to take part in economic development in the 21st century, we have to build these sorts of things.
Senator Lang said that as most northern communities are not linked to the South by roads or rail, and many communities rely on ships, there is concern about the effects of pollution on the vulnerable Arctic waters, foreseeing the increased amount of traffic over the summer months.
He mentioned in passing that most northern communities are not linked by road. One sub-Arctic community is linked by road to the rest of Canada, and that is Goose Bay, Labrador, a day and half steam from Iqaluit. There is unused infrastructure, post Second World War, in the airport at Goose Bay. The Government of Canada spent something like $20 million in the past two years to fix up that equipment. The equipment, the port and the airport are there. Goose Bay is a day and a half steam from Iqaluit and is close in terms of providing search and rescue. This is something that can be done to give effect to our presence in the Arctic.
I think those points are the main ones, honourable senators. This bill is a good one. This idea is good. However, the idea is good only if we are prepared to put our money where our mouth is and take the necessary action to put into place the means in the Arctic and the presence in the Arctic to give teeth to this bill. Otherwise, the bill will be symbolic, as Senator Lang mentioned at the beginning. I know he does not want that situation, nor do I, and I hope we can pursue this issue so we do not simply have a 200-mile limit but we have a 200-mile limit that is enforceable.