Good morning, everyone. Welcome to today's meeting.
This is meeting 14 of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I apologize for starting a few minutes late.
We've set aside the first 15 minutes to do some committee business, and I have a little bit of a list here. We'll maybe go through it, and then if there are other comments, we can add to it.
The subcommittee met and made a proposal that we actually do the study on navigable waters. But as a collective group, we needed to bring that back to the committee as a whole for approval. I put that out there as the first thing we have to do. So I would ask the committee as a whole if there are any comments on the subcommittee's report.
It was agreed that officials from Transport Canada would appear today with respect to navigable waters, and it was also agreed that we would invite the Minister of Transport to appear before the committee with respect to supplementary estimates B. I can give the committee an update on that. The minister is, at this point, unavailable to attend, but I can advise the committee that the main estimates of the government are to be tabled no later than March 1, which would be today or tomorrow. And then the committee will have until May 31 to study them. I would hope that the minister would make himself available to appear before the committee to discuss the main estimates.
Are there any comments?
Go ahead, Mr. Jean.
I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to steal the thunder, but I wanted to make sure I dealt with some issues.
I'm worried about the agenda. We've been very successful as a committee, and I'm just worried we're running out of things to do. I'd like to propose at the earliest possible time, which is right now, a list of some of the witnesses that we might hear here in Ottawa before we get on the road, if indeed that's possible. I thought I would propose a list that I was going through this morning.
I did have a chance actually to look at the information provided by the department, and quite frankly, I found it very helpful. There was a study of five or six different jurisdictions around the country. If you haven't had a chance to read it.... It really gave me a good synopsis of what's happening in the rest of the world and what our problems are here.
For some of the witnesses, I was going to propose that we start off with the departments, because I think they would be most readily available and easiest to get to. I thought, subject of course to any greater wisdom than mine, that we would have to talk to DFO, Natural Resources, Environment Canada, and indeed Infrastructure, because of course it is a separate department. Those are the ones that I saw as most seriously connected to navigable waterways as far as what's taking place with them.
And then I also thought, at the same time, while we're listening to those witnesses, we could send out an invitation to all the provinces. I know that Alberta would like to have some input. I believe that Quebec would as well, because of some issues that are going on there, and I know Ontario would. As well, I thought that the FCM would be a good witness to bring forward, because it deals with the bigger municipalities, as well as the smaller provincial municipality organizations such as SARM, AMM, and AMO in Ontario.
Those were some of the ideas that I had, but certainly I'd like to banter it around as much as anybody wants. I thought what we could do is listen to more or less the organizations, the governments, and the departments here at this level, and then when we go around the country, if that is indeed possible, we can get input from stakeholders on the ground that aren't really department- or government-organized.
Well, Mr. Chair, I don't want to engage in this particular debate, other than, as Mr. Jean said a few moments ago, we're running out of things to do. We're not. I just want to clarify that, because we rely on the government to do something, some initiative, and we respond to the initiatives that come before the House, unless we generate some of our own.
I think there are a couple of things still in the House that were left in abeyance. Now that the rhetoric about a potential election seems to have quieted, at least momentarily, I'm going to ask Mr. Jean whether, for example, the Pilotage Act is coming back, whether Bill C-14 is coming back, and given that the minister has made several announcements regarding infrastructure—and this committee is part of the infrastructure portfolio of the minister—whether we are going to be looking at any issues that relate to some of his announcements, specifically one that relates to Mr. Masse's motion, for example, the investments and transport capacities and security issues, bridges, etc. Do we in fact have an opportunity to go deeper into the issues related to transport?
The minister has made several announcements regarding automobiles and the efficiency standards associated with fuel consumption. All of these are part and parcel of the mandate of the minister. He's not just a transport minister, he's the minister for several other things. I'm just wondering whether he'd give us an indication of the directions we're going to pursue over the course of the next little while, given that we're just anxious to do more than what is normally asked of us, to ensure that the government functions in a capacity that would make Canadians feel comfortable that they eschewed the opportunity to go to an election.
First of all, I want to say that I think the reality is two things. The first is that I think this committee is working very efficiently and pushing through a lot of legislation and being successful. That's one of the reasons that we are well ahead of expectation. That might be as a result of this Conservative government's being so efficient--I'm not sure on that, Mr. Volpe.
But all that election rhetoric aside, I think the long and the fast is that on Mr. Masse's motion.... I think navigable waterways is critical to the motion, and I would argue that. I'd like to talk about the $33 billion we've allocated that is going to be rolled out soon. That money, as you know.... The application for navigable waterways is directly connected to just about all infrastructure in this country. One way or the other, any road that's going to be built is going to go across water or is going to in some way be impeded by water or involved with it.
I think the most important thing we can do.... I know that with Mr. Masse's motion, if we go to these things.... If I were in one of those cities and listening to people, I know what I would hear and I know what I would say. I would say, “Give me money, give me money, give me money.”
Well, money is not the answer. What we're suggesting as a government is to say here's part of the problem, and here's something we can fix. Here's something we can work on as a committee before the $33 billion starts to be rolled out in big numbers.
There is an eleven-month average wait for a navigable waterway application. So this is something that holds up a lot of investment in the country and a lot of efficiency in the country, and here's something, before we get too close to throwing the $33 billion wherever it may be invested across the country.... And you know, the $130 billion that we have as a deficit now in infrastructure across this country.... Here's an opportunity to speed up the process and to do something that Canadians are going to see good results on. That's why I think this is so important.
In terms of our agenda on the other items that you've asked about, Mr. Volpe, it's really beyond my pay grade. I don't know what's happening with those particular pieces of legislation at this stage. I know that we did our work on it, and I'm not sure when it would be coming back or whether it's a priority of the government.
But I would agree with Mr. Laframboise. I think the major priority for this committee at this stage is navigable waterways, because it's so directly connected to infrastructure investment across the country. It's an issue of a 130-year piece of legislation that needs to be updated. And maybe, just maybe, we could get consensus among this group, which I think we can, with some basic changes that are going to get us really good results.
To point directly to Mr. Masse's constituency, I think it's absolutely critical to solve the issues with navigable waterways in order to speed up the process and be more efficient. I really think it's important.
Did that answer all of your questions, Mr. Volpe?
I can wait for further discussion on the motion, but I'm a little bit concerned, and I only tabled it now because there is a difference between what was agreed upon in the subcommittee and what we have today. It is a departure from what had happened there, and I will table these as well for the committee members.
I'm concerned about how far we go down this line and whether we're going to be looking at a review of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. I'm not opposed. I support doing some work on that, but I have already from my motion the groups that are supporting or writing to me about that. I have the national union of transportation workers, the Hotel Association, the Canadian Trucking Alliance, Chrysler, the Auto Parts Manufacturers' Association. We have the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association, the Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance, Teamsters Canada, the Canadian Meat Council, CAW, as well as Bombardier and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The scope of what we can potentially do is important to the productivity issues.
I'm open to amending the motion. I'm open to spending time on the Navigable Waters Protection Act, but I'm a little bit concerned that we go full into this and then we depart on everything else that we can do as a committee.
I'm looking for compromise, but....
Secondly, general infrastructure--which is one of our main mandates--is important. It is important to the municipalities. I don't know what the steering committee talked about in terms of establishing work on that, but we need to have a good discussion about that.
The third aspect relating to this motion is the issue of the gateways. As critic for the Pacific gateway, I am particularly interested in addressing what the infrastructure needs are so that we can assess that.
With the Asia-Pacific--and I would refer to that again specifically--we know that within 10 to 15 years China will either be the number one economy or tied for the number one economy in the world. We know that the opportunity for Canada lies in tapping that market--whether it is India, China, Korea, or Japan--through the Pacific gateway. We know that the U.S. is building up its ports to take advantage of that. We know that Shanghai has quadrupled the size of its ports to deal with its growing business, so the capacity is going to be there. If we don't rise to the occasion, they will bypass us.
There's already talk about another kind of canal to parallel the Panama Canal. There are South American ports. We can't afford to be left behind, so I'm interested in that.
I realize that's trade, but it's also the issue of what we're talking about: the transport provided for that, making sure we've got the adequate rail links, and the provision for trucking and road services that are needed to serve that.
The other aspect, of course, is airports and the ability to handle tourism, and the significance, to some degree, of not yet having achieved the approved destination status with China, which impacts on the volumes that would come through the airport.
Okay. I think we've got that pretty much wrapped up. I guess we have to adjourn this meeting, or can we just move into it? We've got our high-priced talent sitting at the back and ready to join us, I'm sure.
Thank you. We will now move on to the order that we just approved this morning, “The study of the current status of navigation protection of the Canadian waterways, including their governance, use and the operation of the current Navigable Waters Protection Act”.
Joining us once again is Mr. Marc Grégoire, the assistant deputy minister of safety and security, and Mr. David Osbaldeston, the manager of the navigable waters protection program.
I guess you received the letter where we asked you to provide us with some of the low-hanging fruit, I think was the term, so we could improve this as quickly as possible.
Do you have an opening comment that you'd like to make, Mr. Grégoire?
Thank you very much. That will allow me to answer many questions and to lay the groundwork for your questions.
Good morning. Thank you for allowing us to return to the committee today and continue the discussion on possible amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
During our last discussion you requested additional information, which I believe has been distributed to members.
Has it been? We sent you a letter yesterday or two days ago. Does everybody have everything?
I would first like to touch on some of the information items that we have provided. The first item is the study on navigation protection in foreign jurisdictions. It is not an in-depth study, but rather a high-level overview of how works are constructed in navigable waters in other countries. It revealed that the Navigable Waters Protection Act is in fact not that different from similar legislation in other countries.
You have all received copies of the minor works brochures that were recently developed. The intent of these brochures is to reduce the regulatory burden on proponents by excluding from the act those minor works that are known to have no, or very little, impact on navigation. As the brochures were only implemented last year, in 2007, we have no quantitative data yet on their effectiveness. But it is estimated that they may ultimately result in a 25% reduction in the number of applications received.
We have provided a breakdown of the application numbers that were the cause of considerable discussion at our last appearance.
Finally, the most important item is a short list of items for consultation and for consideration in the act. This is the name I gave them. I can't call them “low-hanging fruit”, because there's no such thing as low-hanging fruit for this act. These items, however, would provide some limited relief to proponents and to the department.
In your letter of February 15, you asked the minister what could reasonably be done to serve the needs of stakeholders, specifically with respect to the current definitions in the act. The revised proposal focuses on two key definitions in the act, namely the definition of “navigable waters” and the definition of “work”. The intent of amending these definitions is to focus the application of the act upon those waters and those works where federal oversight provides the greatest value to Canadians.
In addition to the two definitions l've just mentioned, there are another five items we would like the committee to consider. Combined, these seven items represent what we believe to be the absolute minimum changes required to the act to benefit stakeholders.
l will now discuss each of them very briefly.
First, amending the definition of navigable waters to exclude minor waters and replacing it with the term "waters in Canada" as we had originally proposed does not solve any of the issues related to the term "navigable waters". Nonetheless, the amendment would benefit those wishing to construct works in minor waters and provide some workload relief to Transport Canada staff.
Second, amending the definition of work to explicitly exclude minor works will benefit or could benefit those wishing to construct minor works in navigable waters. Here again, we could anticipate some workload relief to applicants and to Transport Canada staff.
Subsection 5(2) of the act contains four named works. They are “bridge, boom, dam...[and] causeway”. These four works were originally named, back in 1882, specifically in the act, as they completely blocked the waterway and thus were traditionally considered significant interferences to navigation. Today in 2008, this is not true any more.
The result of naming those four works specifically in the act removed departmental discretion in the review process applied to them. This review process is prescribed in the act and is considered unnecessary in many cases—a large number of cases, indeed.
There would be significant benefit for stakeholders in removing those four named works from the act, as the review process could then be tailored to impact the work on navigation. This proposal could result in a moderate reduction in the number of environmental assessments conducted by the department.
Next, current fines in the act range from $500 to $5,000 maximum. They no longer act as a real deterrent to non-compliance and they require updating.
Here is another suggestion. In May 2007, the international Maritime Organization adopted the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007. Given the large number of questions that members of the committee had about wrecks when we last appeared, we thought that it was important to bring this for the committee's consideration.
it is proposed that only the operational elements of the wreck removal convention be inserted into the act. It is also proposed that the mandatory insurance provisions of the convention be placed into the Marine Liabilities Act.
The removal provisions in the convention apply to vessels of any size, and, for that reason, they complement the limited removal provisions of the current act.
The convention provides additional tools for Transport Canada to undertake removal of derelict vessels in all regions of the country as Canada chose to opt into the territorial waters provision of the convention.
Next, the act currently does not contain explicit inspection powers. Inspection powers are required to ensure compliance with all provisions. Good examples of inspection powers can be found in other similar legislation--for example, in part 10 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, or the enforcement section of the International Bridges and Tunnels Act.
Finally, it is desirable for stakeholders and the department to have a five-year review clause in the amended act. It would provide for an opportunity to correct any deficiencies identified through implementation, especially in light of the fact that we may not have new protection legislation for some time to come.
On a last point, on the copy of our guidance document that we gave you, the explanation on the chart on page 3 has been amended. The description of the light blue bar has been amended to reflect requests received per calendar year. On the version you received, it mentioned the number of applications. It did not in fact deal with the number of applications, but with the total workload. We realized that this included all the requests or enquiries that had been made but that were not applications as such. The new table clarifies this point, as do the additional tables that we have provided you with today.
Thank you for putting so much attention toward the Navigable Waters Protection Act. We truly hope this committee will make recommendations to improve this legislation.
No. Except for the four works I have named, the act allows for some very limited flexibility through exemptions.
We're actually using, if you want, the exemption power specified in subsection 5(2) of the act to exclude some of the minor works. That's what we explain through all the pamphlets there.
The pamphlets are starting to be known now. We're already starting to see a small decrease in the number of requests, as you can see in the table. Hopefully in 2008 we will have a further reduction.
So this is done by exemption. It would be useful here to define minor works in the act and get rid of the four names. Today, if you have a golf course and there's a little creek on which you can navigate a canoe, and you want to build a bridge to cross between two fairways, you need a Navigable Waters Protection Act application. It's a bridge, and we can't exclude those four named works because the act gives no exemption power for those four.
If you could get rid of those four, that would be another excellent step toward improving the situation.
We're trying to send things off that have, from our perception, a substantial interference to navigation. Our major works are indeed major works that may have a substantial impact on the environment, and that's where we feel our resources should be dealt with.
Conversely, with the minor works we've identified, we have identified that these do not have substantial interference to navigation. Aerial cable, for example, is 400 feet off the body of water and going between two cliff faces. Even though you can float a canoe on the water, you won't get a sailboat on the water. It's not a substantial interference, and that is our particular interest in business, so why delay our navigational approval?
If an environmental concern could be triggered through other pieces of legislation, either provincial environmental assessments that would be conducted, for example, for building posts on the provincial shoreline, if there are fisheries concerns, it could be triggered by the Fisheries Act, even a small bridge, for example, that may go over a waterway, just the fact that it casts a shadow on a waterway could change the fish habitat underneath, but the fisheries people will pick that up in their review of the project.
Merci, Monsieur Grégoire and Mr. Osbaldeston.
I have some difficulties getting a firm handle on this. I don't normally admit to weakness like that, and I hope this will be the last time.
I listened to you and I read the documentation and I recall what I tried to get at when we were here at the steering committee. That is, if we proceed according to course A, small definitions, etc., or course B, what will be the impact on cases that are outstanding that might be in the courts or that are in process in terms of being dealt with according to the status quo? I don't think I've had a good enough answer to that. I'm looking at your charts, and it appears very roughly that about 50% of the applications get dealt with satisfactorily over the course of the year in one way or another, but they're dealt with.
Very roughly, again, very rarely do you have more than 5% rejection. So I ask myself this, and maybe, Monsieur Grégoire, you're the best person to answer this. Is a solution to this problem additional staff?
No, not from where I sit today. As I just explained, we are doing a study to see if that is the case. From what we have looked at now, the most acute problem is on the portion of environmental assessments. Within the department we have the navigable waters program within my responsibility under safety and security. This program is led by David here. Another part of the government within the programs group, here in Ottawa and throughout the regions, has the responsibility of doing the environmental impact assessment and the environmental analysis.
So if David or one of his staff is dealing with a project and receives an application under the Navigable Waters Protection Act, they do the navigation safety analysis and then they send the project to our colleagues in programs, who then do the environmental analysis. On bigger projects this is multi-departmental. Many times another department will be the lead to do the environmental analysis and a large number of people will be consulted. The navigable water becomes only a small component of it.
The answer doesn't appear to be, from what I've learned of this program, to throw more people at the program. It would be far more efficient to do the blue pamphlets that we did to get rid of these small little things and put our attention elsewhere, and to do those seven things that we've outlined today.
I will remind you that our preference is to repeal this act entirely and to come out with a new piece of legislation. Should that not be possible in the near future, the best thing to do is to make those improvements that could significantly not only improve our life, but more importantly from where you stand, I believe, would improve the life of the stakeholders of the various citizens across the country who want to do projects. That would relieve them of one burden, one legislative or regulatory burden. It would be one less to deal with.
I appreciate that, and I don't want to put you in an unfair position as a departmental official disagreeing with the request of the minister. That's not my intention, because I was one of those who asked whether this committee shouldn't ask the minister to give us the bill on first reading so that we could shape the bill and then bring it more clearly and more quickly and expeditiously for approval into the House. I'm actually just simply asking, from an efficiency and experience perspective, whether the most practical thing for this committee to do would be to rely on that vast body of data and knowledge that you have, in order to give us the insights that we're going to need.
From what I can decipher from what you're telling us, we're going to go into a minefield of interdepartmental competitiveness. And I don't mean that negatively, but in your last response to me, Monsieur Grégoire, you said the application comes in to you, you say what it is, once you give your approval off it goes to environmental assessment, and then maybe from there to something else.
I think if we want to do things appropriately for our fellow citizens, we probably want to be able to make sure that the safety measures associated with some of that process are dealt with in as quick a way as possible. I'm not sure that's going to be done by us. You've quite rightly pointed out three alternatives.
Again, I don't want to put you on the spot, and if you don't want to answer, that's fine. You've given us three alternatives, but I'm just wondering whether this committee's going to be spinning its wheels for several months when the answers are already there.
To some extent, I share the concerns expressed by my Liberal colleague. But I am still in favour of an approach by which we would specify the amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act and we would consult with stakeholders about them.
As to the term "minor waters", I would like you to provide us with definitions. It would be good not to rely on a term that is very general and, at the same time, largely left to everyone's discretion. For one person, a navigable waterway may seem minor while for another it can be quite major. With your knowledge of the area, you could provide us with a kind of table where you would provide various possible definitions of minor waters. In that way, we would have, from the outset, a range of possibilities or exceptions that we could include in the bill. At least, we would have some kind of guide. Otherwise, we would have to rely on information coming from all over the place and to come up with our own ideas.
The same applies to the definition of the term "minor works". That is the term you already use in your brochures. You could tell us what limits to use in defining the term. There again, it is largely left to everyone's discretion. For some, a certain number of metres is a minor work, while for others, it is taking up half a river.
Would it be possible to come up with this kind of table with different definitions from which we could choose after having discussed it amongst ourselves, or during the tour?
Thank you, gentlemen, for appearing before us again on this very important issue. I can tell you that there are many people across Canada who are looking forward to these amendments or new legislation coming forward--especially municipalities.
Just so I understand why you're proposing seven amendments, as opposed to a wholesale review of the act, it's my understanding that it's an issue of timing. As you know, our government has committed $33 billion in infrastructure money over the next seven years. Any obstacle that stands in the way of getting that money delivered is going to cost the country significantly.
In the last two years we've passed a number of pieces of legislation--for example, the bridges and tunnels, and the aeronautics provisions. Those provisions go back many years, perhaps to the year 2000 or 2001, under previous Liberal governments. There were various iterations along the way, but they never were actually passed, simply because Parliament ran out of time. Now we're in a minority government situation--the government could fall at any time--and there is no guarantee that there will be a majority government the next time around.
Am I correct in assuming that the purpose for bringing forward these seven amendments is to speed up the process so we can address some of those critical infrastructure needs in Canada right now?
If I could now follow up on a report that you gave us, it was a review of approaches to navigable waters protection in other jurisdictions, foreign jurisdictions.
As I understand it, you chose, I believe, seven different countries to review their legislation and how it addresses their needs. I was a little puzzled, because we had Vietnam in there, yet you neglected to study places such as Great Britain, France, Germany, Australia. Australia has topography that might be similar to ours. I'm just wondering why you chose those countries.
And as a follow-up question, of those countries, which of those legislative frameworks most closely resembles what Canada probably needs at this time?
The choosing of the countries in that particular scope was really limited by time and quick Internet access. It was a request for a very quick study that I asked one of our consultants to do for another purpose, and I needed a turnaround time that was very short. So the answer to why these countries were chosen is the fact that they came up quickest in his research scan, with readily available information to give us some idea of equivalencies that may exist out there, or not.
Further studies could be done down the road, but I think I'd rather spend our time on new legislation at this point, or modifications.
On the second piece of your question--who would be most similar to us--from what we picked up, the U.S. is probably most similar to us, but they have great differences as well. Aside from federal law dealing mostly with interstate commerce waters, they then have individual state laws that deal with internal inland waters to the state. We don't have that. We have federal waters and federal laws.
So there are variances throughout that differ from us in each country that we looked at, and there are others that match up, the U.S. probably the most. The U.S. does regulate their aids to navigation. It does provide for navigation rules in regulating those aids. They do issue permits, similar to us. They call it a permit; we call it an approval. And they do base their issuance on evaluations of impact on navigation on those waterways interstate.
There is an environmental assessment process there--similar to our environmental assessment process--that looks at fishing and game and other issues.
They do have some responsibility for identifying and removing obstructions, mind you, because the Army Corps of Engineers there have authority. They have a lot more power than we have with our fines, and we have no cost recovery, which they do. They also have capability to actually pursue criminal and civil actions for violations, which we don't have.
So there is a system of enforcement and compliance in the U.S., which because of our proximity to them, we can relate to. We don't have that. Whether it would be a good thing would be something that would be obviously considered in consultations.