Mr. Speaker, I think members will agree that it would be bordering on rude and untimely for the government to stall the debate we will be holding in the next few minutes and hours, since this issue is of exceptional importance to the fisheries.
When we talk about fishing, it is true that we are talking about resources, fishermen, businesses and people who work in this field. But it is the small craft harbours, the infrastructures and the wharves that hold everything together. In fact, the wharves are absolutely essential to the fisheries. We recently discussed this in the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, and we tabled a preliminary report before the holidays, aimed at influencing the budget that will be presented on February 26.
The situation is more than urgent; it has become scandalous. To give you an idea, I would say that we are at the point of wondering whether the wharf is attached to the boat or the boat is attached to the wharf. If we are wondering that, then the situation must be very serious. It just goes to show the state of our infrastructure in Canada and in the regions I represent, the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands. We know very well that there is a lot of fishing in these areas, and for some parts of those regions, fishing accounts for a significant number of jobs.
For example, in the Magdalen Islands, six out of 10 jobs are in the fishery. In the Gaspé, it is three out of 10. Along the lower North Shore, it is eight out of 10. That shows how important this is. It is clear that this issue is of fundamental importance to each of these communities, be they in the Maritimes, in the west, in British Columbia, or even in northern Quebec or Nunavut. We know that many coastal communities have the same basic need for adequate infrastructure: transportation infrastructure, infrastructure that can help them access high-speed Internet, infrastructure that enables them to watch us and hear what we are talking about today. They also need infrastructure such as small craft harbours and wharves. If there are no wharves, there can be no fishing, and if there is no fishing, there are no jobs.
Over the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to tour maritime Quebec. I went to the North Shore, the lower North Shore, the lower St. Lawrence, the Gaspé, and the Magdalen Islands. The tour ended with the annual convention of the Quebec Fish Processors Association in Quebec City. At the convention, it was clear that for some communities, fishing grounds represent borders that protect access to a resource. The people of Newfoundland have a protected fishing territory along the west and north coasts, all around the islands. Quebec has the same. That is why the people of the lower North Shore should be treated fairly, but they are not being treated fairly.
I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the terrible state of their infrastructure. It is scandalous and shameful, particularly given that the government records budget surpluses of around $11 billion to $13 billion in good years and bad. That is $11 thousand million, $13 thousand million. That is the reality of the situation. The government over there must do something. This is not about agreeing to a request. This is about being a good and responsible manager.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for the fisheries and the infrastructure and, therefore, it must help. It has a duty to provide good quality facilities in good working order to the people who live off the fishery and who need them.
This report was tabled in the House of Commons in mid-December. It says the situation has reached such scandalous proportions that the cost of rehabilitating the wharves that are considered essential has risen from about $400 million in 2004 to at least $600 million now.This shows that the government is not meeting its responsibilities. When a roof starts to leak and nobody repairs it, eventually it will collapse. That is exactly what is happening here.
There are many other aspects to this as well, including the people who do volunteer work. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has an annual budget for small craft harbours of about $100 million and another 25% of this—or $25 million—is provided by volunteers. There are harbour authorities in most communities and the volunteer board members do a very careful, responsible job of taking care of the facilities. They enable the government to save $25 million.
What do they get in return? They do not get the recognition they deserve. That is why a significant amount needs to be invested right away on February 26. The volunteers in these harbour authorities are not only frustrated and sickened by the situation but worn out as well. Ultimately, they bear the brunt of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ disinterest and lack of action. They are on the receiving end of the frustration expressed by the main users. In addition, these volunteer members of harbour authorities are also users themselves. They donate their time and sometimes even their money to help their communities help themselves and do what needs to be done.
Unfortunately, the government’s response so far has been so inadequate that the people in some harbour authorities, such as the one in L'Étang-du-Nord on the Magdalen Islands, are so disgusted they think it does not make sense any more and are thinking of quitting—and they are not the only ones. That is the reality. When a director of a corporation called the Administration portuaire du havre de pêche de l'Étang-du-Nord feels forced to sound the alarm and threaten to quit and just give up because he does not have the necessary support, it is both a cry of alarm and a heartfelt sob. That is why the government must respond.
I know that when the committee travelled to the region, we were able to see for ourselves. Sadly, we are forced to raise this issue year after year, just as we have to keep talking about the shrimp crisis in Quebec. People are being held hostage. Negotiations between processors and fishers are at an impasse. The plant workers are being held hostage. They never know from one year to the next whether they will have a job, when they will have work or whether they will be forced to take to the streets and demonstrate to get what they want. There is that as well.
These are the sorts of situations we see everywhere, and they are the result of the policy of inaction and the laissez-faire approach of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. That is why the department needs to be shaken up. It must recognize that action is urgently needed, especially on the issue of small craft harbours. If no action is taken, then like that leaky roof that has not been repaired, everything will eventually collapse. And that has happened. In Saint-Georges-de-Malbaie, for example, there was a beautiful wharf that, over time, was allowed to deteriorate from wave action. Finally, when the situation became critical, a solution was found in the form of pontoons used for mooring.
Things reached a point where, last year, these people had no infrastructure. They finally had to go with mooring floats, thanks to eleventh-hour assistance from Quebec City. It is being called a temporary solution. It is not permanent. This is no way to treat people who depend on a resource for their livelihood and are proud and happy to be able to do so, who have done so for generations and who are now wondering whether they have a future in fishing. The question has come up.
The question has come up so often that other questions come to mind as well, and I am saying this in a non-partisan way. Even before I got into politics, I realized that sovereignty would benefit Quebec when it came to issues such as fisheries. The federal government has responsibility for fisheries, but the situation is in total disarray.
Who arbitrates when Quebec and New Brunswick fight over herring in Chaleur Bay, when Quebec and Newfoundland have a dispute over halibut or cod, or when Prince Edward Island has a conflict with New Brunswick or Nova Scotia? The federal government. But things are deteriorating, because the federal government is looking at the situation with the eyes of an administrator or manager who is not necessarily kindly disposed toward Quebec.
Furthermore, the small craft harbour situation is getting worse. These people deserve better than what they are getting now.
Over the past few months, we have had the opportunity to meet with representatives from port authorities such as the Etang-du-Nord group and others. Furthermore, in my riding I personally meet with people from port authority after port authority and I can tell they are simply at the end of their rope. Not only do they want to be recognized for what they are doing, although everyone can see it, but that recognition needs to come with some concrete action, namely money.
It is as simple as that. It is not a matter of having money for the sake of it. We are not talking about helping the oil companies make more profits, so that Exxon and Exxon Mobil, who are making $100 million in profits a day, can say there is a catastrophe and that next year they want to make $150 million a day. That is not the issue.
The issue is about communities at the end of their rope trying to hang on to what they have paid so dearly for, realizing that their infrastructure is disappearing with the wind, the tides and the waves.
As I have said to many people and as people have said to me, a village's wharf is its heart and soul. If we must, we can always replace the heart, we can always mend it or put something else in its place, but when a soul is lost it is lost forever. The same is true of the wharf, since it is the soul of the village. I know very well that many of my colleagues know exactly what I am talking about.
Nonetheless, people throughout Quebec and the Maritimes are sending us a message of despair. They are in a situation that requires concerted action. This situation requires massive funding.
As I was saying, $100 million is invested in this every year and we see the situation deteriorate year after year. We went from needing $400 million to needing $600 000 million or more. This shows how far things have gone. That is why money needs to be invested there. We are talking about investment, not spending. We are talking about investment in the present and in the future.
Just imagine the positive message people receive when we listen to them, understand them, when we act and try to get things moving in the House of Commons, so that there is some actual forward movement by the government on this file. Now and in the future, it is important that what is done be more than just vigorous and on a large scale, that it respond to needs. And the needs are enormous. As I said, it is more than a question of infrastructure. It is not about a stretch of road that is missing somewhere and can be otherwise repaired. If there is no wharf, there is no unloading; if there is no unloading, there is no fishery; and if there is no fishery, there are no economic spinoffs. At the same time, we are losing an important aspect of our history and heritage.
I am talking about fishing in the context of wharves, but a wharf is more than just a fishing infrastructure. It is also a gathering place. People who live in communities like mine or who have had the opportunity to visit one know that wharves can also serve other purposes, commercial ones, for instance, as is the case in Anse-à-Beaufils. Ferry operators run the ferries that shuttle between Percé and Bonaventure Island, passing by Rocher Percé. Those people need an infrastructure to be able to berth. To some degree, they have such an infrastructure in Anse-à-Beaufils and Percé. They have that need. Thus, they can be used for commercial purposes, for tourism and also for pleasure.
It is therefore a relatively complex set of functions affecting various activities. A wharf in a community may revive the town and give it hope for the future. Obviously the wharf itself must be in good condition. If an institution, an infrastructure, a house, a restaurant or some other facility is deteriorating day after day, people will say we have to let it go, it is not worth it. People might even think that it should be demolished.
Is this the Conservative philosophy, or ideology, that explains its failure to do anything about small craft harbours? The answer is self-evident. I would like to think it is not, because that would be an affront to the community. It is an affront to people for whom good quality infrastructure is essential. We must not end up with people like those in Étang-du-Nord or elsewhere saying that the only solution is to let it go. Neither I nor the party I represent, nor the people who care about this situation, have any intention of giving up and abandoning these communities when they urgently need this infrastructure. That is why it is important to keep raising this question, day after day, session after session.
The positive side of all this, given how we have taken up this battle in recent months and years, is that we are starting to see some recognition of the situation. I recall that the first few times I talked about small craft harbours at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans I was told that the universe was unfolding as it should. This was paradise, or close to. In other words, no one saw the problems. Today, the problems are being recognized. In order for that recognition to be genuine, responsible and complete, there must be action to go with it. Ultimately, that action consists of the preliminary report submitted by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. That committee examined the subject for several months, and in fact for several years. The members came to the conclusion that action was required, in the form of massive investment in small craft harbours. There is no other way. To say otherwise is to lull the population and is disrespectful to the people in these communities.
I repeat: it is disrespectful to the people in these communities; it is disrespectful to their entire history; and it is also disrespectful to the future that that history may hold.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond at least for a few minutes to this motion from my colleague.
Small craft harbours are of course very important across our country. They are important even in my riding. It is not a coastal riding, but along the Fraser River we have two harbour authorities. One is the Mission Harbour Authority, which looks after the Mission Harbour and the Whonnock Harbour, and the other is in the Albion area. They do a lot of good work. I am proud of the initiative they bring to the challenges they face.
In fact, not too long ago they were recognized with a special award for the work they did when they were facing the challenge of a possible major flood along the Fraser River, a very serious prospect. The work the Mission Harbour Authority did in preparation for that, not just in its own harbours but in helping other harbour authorities all along the river, was recognized by the special award. I commend them for that as well.
In British Columbia, we have the largest harbour in all of Canada, the Steveston Harbour, run by the Steveston Harbour Authority. I had an opportunity to be there as well and to see the things they do. They do a very good job there. It is not without challenges, of course, but all harbour authorities across the country are facing challenges.
In our committee we have had the opportunity to speak to some representatives from harbour authorities and harbour authority associations from across the country. I think we are getting a good sense for what they are facing, what they are up against and the key things they need to address and also for the responsibility of this House and the government to be serious about those issues. I can assure the members of this House that the government is serious about small craft harbours and the challenges they face.
Before moving on, I would like to say that the Pacific region harbour authorities are in a rather unique situation. These harbour authorities have risen to the challenge in a way that I think is perhaps less common in the other regions. They have really put their minds to innovative ways in which they can meet their funding challenges in terms both of enterprises they can be involved in as well as revenue generating activities.
In fact, I think it is true that of all the additional revenue that small craft harbours generate across the country, about 30% or 40% of that comes from the Pacific region, which certainly does not have a very large percentage of the small craft harbours across the country. The Pacific region has come up with some innovative and creative ways of actually generating the kind of revenue that it needs to be able to do the maintenance on its harbours.
Let me also say that the government is very well aware of the funding challenges. In fact, if we look at the figures, and I think it is important to do so, we will see that in round figures about $100 million is being spent in this fiscal year for small craft harbours. A similar amount was spent in the last fiscal year.
However, more than a decade ago, in the years of the Progressive Conservative government, the government actually spent about $150 million, again in round figures. As we went into the Liberal governments in the 1990s with their deficit cutting measures, a very significant amount of the funding for small craft harbours was cut. In fact, the amount went below $50 million. It went from $150 million to below $50 million for a year or so. In the years since then, the amount being spent has been coming up a little and now we are at today's figure.
I am well aware, though, that this issue has been with us for a long time. In fact, funding for small craft harbours was the subject of a previous concurrence report, in June 2006, I think. When we dealt with it then, it was the will of this House to recognize the fact that there was a significant funding shortfall and that small craft harbours required more money.
The House generally supports the fact that infrastructure needs to be improved and we recognized that in the 2006 Speech from the Throne, but the facts, and I think they have been pointed out by my colleague and others, are as follows. When we did a study a couple of years ago to try to figure out just where we were at in terms of infrastructure, whether we were falling behind and how much it would cost to bring small craft harbours up to a good condition, the facts were clear. It would take perhaps $400 million, according to that report, to put us in a place where we would consider the small craft harbours to be in good condition.
That was only part of the problem. That is only part of the money that would be required. That is the for existing core of small craft harbours the government owns. We also have a divestiture program for those harbours that are no longer used by the commercial fishing industry and that need to be divested to other entities and interests. Sometimes they are divested to communities or other non-profit organizations, which would manage them on behalf of the community, for example, perhaps for recreational activities.
It takes money to bring these harbours up to the condition where they can be divested to these other bodies. Certainly money is required for that. While this interim report from the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans that we are looking at today does mention a general amount, in order to do everything in terms of bringing our existing core harbours up to the state we require and would hope to achieve, and for our divestiture program and some new harbours, by some accounts a large investment is needed.
Nunavut, for example, has no small craft harbours and clearly we see a need there. We have looked at the possibility of developing harbours in seven locations. However, as I have already said, a large investment is required for all of these things, by some accounts perhaps up to $1 billion. It is an important priority and the minister has said that time after time. Just today, in fact, in our committee, he said that this is an important priority for him and our government and we will continue to work toward this in the best way we can.
This government is behind our fishing industry. It is behind the stakeholders who use our harbours. Of course we need to do more than just fix our harbours. We need to look in a broad way at our fishing industry. The government has done that. We are undertaking some key initiatives and have made key progress in that area.
We have the Atlantic fisheries renewal and have made good progress there. The minister has met with fisheries officials from region to region and province to province. He has also met with stakeholders from the industry and from communities. We have been getting them together and have asked them about what we need to do and what is important to them as we try to sustain our fisheries in an economic and environmentally friendly way in their regions.
Those have been very productive meetings. Committees were set up, reports were received, and action plans are being worked on and put in place as we try to make the kind of progress we need to ensure that the fishing industry in Canada is as productive as possible. Many will have heard about the ocean-to-plate initiative that the minister and his department have adopted. We need to figure out how we can do this so that stakeholders benefit as much as possible and also how to do it in a way that is sustainable.
On the west coast, we have the Pacific initiative to integrate commercial fisheries. It is a very important program and I am proud to be a part of it and am supporting it as best I can. The government has invested $175 million to make sure that we know how to proceed and how to integrate the fisheries between the commercial stakeholders and the aboriginal groups that are already part of it and want to be a bigger part of it. That takes money. We are committed to that program. We have stepped up to the plate with $175 million to work on all of the elements in the Pacific fishery that will be a part of this.
I am very pleased to say that one of the hallmarks of our minister's approach to the challenges and tasks of his job is the way he is able to collaborate. It is one of the most important things he does. Nowhere is that more evident than in British Columbia, where we have worked with a variety of groups and particularly the government of British Columbia and the ministers for fisheries and aquaculture.
This is important to us. We do want to support in general the motion to concur in this report, because we do believe that small craft harbours are a very important initiative for us. They are important to this country.
We own them, and as Canadians, with the Government of Canada, it is important for us to take the steps we need to take so that in the future we can look back and say that we did our duty, we fulfilled our responsibilities, and we brought our small craft harbours up to the condition that they ought to be in. We are working toward that.
Can that be done overnight? I do not think so. I think all of us in this House know that this is quite a large task. We need to be taking steps toward it and the government is doing that. I think members are going to see in the months and years to come that we are making some very good progress in addressing our infrastructure deficit with regard to small craft harbours.
I can assure this House that the government is committed to moving in that direction and achieving that goal.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join the debate today. In the House we always stretch ourselves to try to learn more about our country.
My colleagues from and do not have a lot of fishing fleets in their ridings. However, with the questions being asked and the discussions taking place, I am sure they are learning more about coastal communities across the country.
I was elected to Parliament seven years ago. During the last five years, I have had the opportunity to sit on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Without questions, of all the other committee duties I have had since coming to the House, I am comfortable in stating that the fisheries and oceans committee would be the least partisan of any of the committees on which I have had the privilege to serve.
My colleague from takes great pride in the fact that he is the senior member of the committee. Over his time, 23 different reports have been tabled and of those, 21 have been unanimous. This speaks to the fact that the members of the committee come with the intent to do the work that will best benefit the fishers and the fishing industry.
The report before us today and the debate we have entered into is indicative of the work by the committee.
I have had an opportunity to serve with my colleague, the member for , for a number of years. With the many issues throughout the fishery, he has ensured that the issue of the small craft harbours has been kept to the fore. I commend him for that and thank him for bringing this forward to the House.
In industry many things have changed. We bank with the use of machines and computers. Everything seems to be technologically driven. The fishing industry has not shied away from its use of technology. When we walk into the wheelhouse of any boat that is tied up at a wharf, certainly in my constituency, we cannot help but be impressed with the technology to which the fishers have access now. We look at plotters and computers and it is truly some great stuff.
Sometimes when the fishers are out plying their trade, harvesting the stocks, all of a sudden mother nature decides to change the conditions and a sou'west blows up, the wind starts to come in from the offshore and the fishers have to find safe harbour somewhere. They have to turn, head for shore and hope there is a safe harbour to which they can tie up and find some type of refuge from the bad weather.
When they come into harbour after fishing for the day, it is not only important there is a degree of safety, but they are able to offload their catch in a harbour that is functional, efficient and safe as well. This is the least we can offer these men who go out to harvest the sea.
Even with all the technology, which is wonderful, when we are offloading a couple of thousand pounds of crab, it is tough to do it from a virtual wharf. These wharves have to be safe and efficient. The only way to ensure that is to invest money in the infrastructure of these harbours.
The people in my riding live in coastal communities and the harbour is the industrial part of those communities. They are the light industry moorage of those communities. Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to support them and give these fishers an opportunity to come and harbour in a safe place.
Nothing is static in the fishery. When we look at wharves, we need to look at the money that goes in to them year after year. Living in a northern country, living in a country that is exposed to such harsh weather conditions, with the natural forces of nature, pack ice, storm damage, all these natural impacts have devastating effects on wharf structures. We just cannot fix it, walk away and expect it to be there year after year. Some harbours are impacted by back filling. Some need constant dredging year after year.
These things have to be done to ensure these places continue to be safe, that fishers have access in and out and do not have to wait outside for a rise in the tide to get in. For efficient function of these harbours, it is imperative that investments are made, sometimes on an annual basis.
Another thing that has had a great impact on our harbours is the increase in the size of the boats the fishers use. I am saying that is a good thing. If we walk into any of the harbours in my riding now, the fleets are in pretty good shape. We have had a bit of affluence within the fishery over the last number of years.
I know we focus on the downturn in the cod fishery, but in that other opportunities have presented themselves. We are all very aware of the increase in the crab fishery. For a number of years it was fairly lucrative, but not so much now. However, we had some very strong and productive years with the crab fishery.
With that and lobster, many fishers have reinvested in their own enterprise. As fishers, they have small businesses. They have reinvested in their enterprises by buying bigger and better boats. Bigger and better means safer.
Quite often with these resources, they are harvesting and catching the fish and crab a little further offshore. Therefore, they have to steam further before they set their gear. The further they go from shore, the more they are exposed to the hazards of the ocean and quick changes in weather.
Therefore, what we have seen is an increase in the size of the boats that many of our fishers use. With the increase in the size, obviously there is less moorage at many of the harbours now. We just went through a fairly significant investment in one of my harbours, Mabou Harbour. It was a great little harbour and very functional for many years. However, with the increase in the size of the boats, it made it impossible for all the fishers out of Mabou to access the harbour. Especially for many of the crabbers who went out into area 12, their boats were very substantive in size. With that and the rundown conditions of the harbour, we were able to justify the investment in Mabou Harbour, which has been very much to the benefit of the fishers in Mabou.
Some comments were made by my colleague from the NDP on the training, the liability and the volunteer effort that we had seen from people within the harbour authorities and the responsibility that they had assumed over the last number of years. We expect a great deal of these volunteers.
I think we have put more and more responsibility back in the hands of the fishers. I do not think it is a bad thing. I think they are willing to accept that responsibility. We can look at the demands that are placed on the fishers now with regard to science and the use the science data. When we see them trying to take charge of that industry, the one area they have really stepped up to the plate is operating their own harbours and being involved in harbour authorities.
However, with that, I do not think the federal government can walk away and just turn it over to the fishers and the harbour authorities. It is imperative that we stay with them as a strong partner. Part of that responsibility is to be there when repairs have to be made. When capital investments have to be made in infrastructure, we have to be there for them.
There is another aspect of harbours from speaking with some of my colleagues. Through the mid-90s when there was centralization and rationalization, the divestiture of some non-core, derelict, non-essential harbours, there was a program. I was supportive of the program, which was well intended.
The rationale behind it was that coastal communities would have a small harbour with seven boats and another one with six boats, et cetera. By centralizing them and creating a bigger harbour, we would be able to focus our resources on the bigger harbour. There was a great deal of common sense in that and for the most part the centralization and rationalization programs worked fairly well and there were some great success stories.
Little Judique harbour is a small harbour on the west side of Cape Breton Island. There are 14 or 15 boats that fish out of Little Judique harbour. It went through the assessment on the west side and things were centralized to Big Cove, but the fishers wanted to continue to fish out of that harbour. There was a divestiture and investment made with the harbour authority and the core group of volunteers has continued to provide services and a safe harbour for those fishers from that community. The volunteers are to be commended for the effort they have put into it and that is one of the success stories.
We can look at other areas and there has not been the same degree of success. Fisheries and Oceans officials who were involved in the rationalization can tell us that some of these harbours, that are no longer core harbours, should continue to be in the mix as they are still important harbours.
L'Archeveque harbour is on the east side of Cape Breton Island and it is the only safe port. It was divested and they have done a pretty good job of running it as best they could. There are seven or eight core fishermen who work out of there, but during tuna and crab season additional fishers come to the harbour. It is the length of the coast that it provides safe harbour for, from Little harbour down to Fourchu. It is a significant area of coastline that L'Archeveque has to provide safe harbour for, but as a divested harbour it is having trouble to remain running.
What I would like to see, and I know this is a shot in the dark because it is tough enough with core harbours, is an envelope of money, an allocation. If these divested harbours could on occasion make application for some type of capital project, that would go a long way.
As the program and the rationalization went through in the late 1990s, that is when the boats started getting bigger in my community. Through the industry there was a fairly significant bump in the size of the boats on the east coast. As some of the harbours were being developed then and the boats got bigger, there was no room for some of the fishers in the divested harbours to move to the core harbours.
I was just at the end of the wharf in Charlos Cove in Guysborough County this past weekend and two or three fishers might go somewhere else. They might be able to go to Larrys River, which is a few miles away. There is no room there any more. It may have worked a number of years ago, but with the bigger boats now there is just no room. It would make sense for a divested harbour like Charlos Cove to have access to some type of envelope of money, so that the investment could be made and they could continue to fish off that wharf.
There are some issues that money cannot fix, but there are other issues where money could make a substantive change and an improvement. We think this is certainly one area where, if additional funds were allocated to this program, they could be well spent and well invested.
Certainly, I would like to see the program for scoring the merits of different harbours weighted toward small craft harbours as it is somewhat disproportionately weighted to the bigger harbours; nonetheless, I think most fishers see it as a pretty fair system. However, with additional money, this would be a better program.
We received testimony during the course of the study. Let me quote Mr. Robert Bergeron, small craft harbour director general. He stated: “It now appears that 28% of small craft harbour core infrastructure is in poor or an unsafe state”. That is fairly significant. That is up 7% from the 2001 estimate.
Of course, it goes back to what I was saying. Nothing is static here. Mother Nature plays foul with a lot of these harbours. These harbours are exposed, so naturally the asset will continue to diminish. I think that is where we have to go and I would hope that the government will see that.
Mr. Gervais Bouchard, small craft harbours regional director for the Quebec region testified that:
|| There is no doubt, in light of our current financial resources, that we are having a very hard time keeping operations safe in all locations.
He also stated:
|| So we face many problems, including user dissatisfaction because of safety and accessibility issues in inactive harbours. This is a result of the low rate of recapitalization.
Not having read the entire report, only aspects of it, I think what we will see recurring is that this problem is about additional funding. This problem is about putting more money toward fixing this problem. The formula probably is not too far off, and I have not seen anything through the document that elaborates greatly on what is wrong with the formula. Everything seems to come back to the amount of dollars that are available.
As we approach the big date of the budget coming forward to the House and the bringing the budget forward in the next number of weeks, I would hope that there is some type of recognition here for small craft harbours, some additional dollars.
I know it is tough over on the government side. The cupboard is relatively bare now. With the cut of two percentage points to the GST, there is not a whole lot left in the tank over there and there is not a whole lot of play in the budget this time round.
I guess if we can speak to one thing, we do not want to say “I told you so”, but many Canadians told us so, that it would handcuff this government from making those key investments, making those investments in infrastructure, or programs, or whatever it might be.
I think this probably typifies the case. I do not know if it is catastrophic or if it is a national emergency but, certainly, we know that with some of the new investments, and the parliamentary secretary spoke about the new investments in Iqaluit, and the state of some of the harbours not just on the east coast but on the west coast as well, additional dollars are needed.
I would hope that the, through the presentation of the next budget, will find the merit in this. I would hope that the parliamentary secretary, along with his minister, will make a strong case to put this forward at the cabinet table and we will see additional investment in this very important issue.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this motion regarding the report, “Safe and Well-Funded Small Craft Harbours: A Clear Priority”. I am pleased that the member from the Bloc brought forward this motion today.
I want to specifically address a number of things in the report because they are important factors in my own riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan. Earlier, the parliamentary secretary talked about the fact that small craft harbours in British Columbia are largely well managed. He is absolutely correct. However, I want to talk about some of the challenges.
The report talks about the economic impact that the small craft harbours have on our coastal communities. Certainly in my riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan we welcome the positive economic impact of the small craft harbours.
A range of activities happen at these harbours, including commercial fisheries, sport and recreational fisheries, and boating. We are a destination in Canada and in the Pacific northwest for recreational boaters. We have some of the finest coastline and islands which boaters can visit. Whether it is Protection Island or some of the other small islands, boaters can anchor and enjoy the beauty, or they can come into the harbours in Chemainus, Ladysmith, Maple Bay or Genoa Bay. We have a number of very fine harbours.
The diving in my area is known around the world. Over the last couple of years some appropriately and environmentally cleaned up vessels have been sunk. Divers come from all over the world to explore the seabed and look at some of the man-made artifacts.
Small craft harbours are an essential part of our economy. In the village of Cowichan Bay there is a vibrant small craft harbour and the town itself is built up around it. People come from Nanaimo and Victoria to spend a weekend in Cowichan Bay.
We understand the economic impact and the need to ensure that these small craft harbours remain economically viable.
The report talks specifically about the fact that in 2003, DFO commissioned a study to assess the economic impacts of the small craft harbour network of fishing harbours in British Columbia. According to the study, the economic activity related to its expenditures associated with the region's 101 fishing harbours for 2001-02 totalled $800 million: $500 million from commercial fishing, $200 million from marine recreation, and $100 million from other activities such as aquaculture, marine transport, et cetera.
The report indicates that the direct economic impacts of these expenditures were estimated at $485 million in annual gross domestic product, $245 million in annual labour income, which is wages plus benefits, and 6,135 person years of annual employment. The total impacts, including direct, indirect supplier, and induced consumer spending impacts, were even more important.
Mr. Boland, the regional director of strategic initiatives, Pacific region, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, appeared before the committee. I want to read some of his testimony into the record. From coast to coast to coast, small craft harbours are important, but I want to talk specifically about British Columbia.
Mr. Boland said:
|| B.C. has 27,000 kilometres of coastline...we have a total of 157 scheduled sites, of which 78 of those are harbours, core harbours. We have 54 harbour authorities who manage those 78 core sites.
He talked about the volunteer workforce of between 550 and 600 people, which includes harbour directors and those volunteers from the community who assist in harbour operations. When I was on the North Cowichan council, I was fortunate enough to sit on the harbour commission. I had an up-close view of how important the volunteers are for the operation of our small craft harbour.
Our harbour commission was made up largely of volunteers with some support staff from the North Cowichan council, who worked tirelessly in terms of overseeing the efficient management and function of the small craft harbour over which North Cowichan has responsibility. I understand how important these volunteers are to the ongoing operation.
Mr. Boland went on in his testimony to say:
|| The fishing industry in British Columbia has approximately 3,000 commercial fishing vessels, and in 2005, the landed value of B.C. commercial fishing was in the neighbourhood of $365 million.
That was in 2005, but in my own riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan we saw some really disappointing returns this year in the runs on the Cowichan River. So although commercial fishing has been a really important part of our economy, we have called on DFO to put a lot more attention on and effort into habitat, conservation, protection and enforcement.
When we talk about the importance of these numbers to our communities, we really need that kind of focus and attention. When we see the kinds of runs that we saw this year in the Cowichan River, which is an indicator river in British Columbia, it raises flags all over the province. We are hopeful that DFO will pay attention to the very serious issues that have been raised around some of these indicator rivers in British Columbia.
Mr. Boland went on to talk about the fact that there are some concerns. It is part of these concerns that I want to raise in the context of the debate that is happening in the House today. I have stated what the economic importance is to British Columbia. I have stated how important it is to the viability of some of our communities. I agree that divestiture, if it is done properly, is really important in terms of local community control. Again, I think the municipality of North Cowichan is a good example of how a municipality can take on and run with a divestiture, but there are some problems.
Mr. Boland raised a major concern about “enhancing the viability skills” of harbour authorities “so they can raise enough revenue to keep themselves going, to keep themselves independent”.
He then said:
|| A second issue is that we find a growing pressure on our waterfront. A lot of people want to move to British Columbia. The communities that support the harbours want to look at waterfront land as a better tax base, so they're looking at different kinds of opportunities on the waterfront. And one of the big pushes, from our perspective, is to get our harbour authorities more involved in community integrated planning to generate better strategic planning over time, so they don't get overrun by interests selling land and building condos right next door to a bustling harbour.
|| We also have first nations issues unique to British Columbia. We're involved with the B.C. treaty process in Indian Affairs to have them consider the 15 harbours that front first nations communities. These communities are not just commercial fishing harbours, they are often the ingress and egress of the community. There are no roads, so the only way in and out is by the harbour...We think the harbour is an economic opportunity for first nations, so it should be part of the treaty process.
Mr. Boland went on to talk about climate change. He said:
|| Climate change is having an impact on our harbours, so we need funding to take a look at how to better design or facilitate the changes of our commercial fishing fleet as they move from fishing for salmon to other species such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, and those types of fisheries that require larger boats.
In terms of climate change, Mr. Boland was talking specifically about the way species are shifting and how we are seeing some species in our waters that we have not seen in the past, how the fishing season is moving because of warming water temperatures, and a number of other factors.
However, there is another impact on small craft harbours. That has to do with changing water levels and storm damage. Over the last couple of years, we have seen some of the most severe windstorms in B.C.'s history. That kind of storm damage, which many argue is attributable to climate change, needs to be factored into the kind of money that is required in order to maintain small craft harbours on an ongoing basis.
There are a couple of other points in the issues that Mr. Boland addressed around the importance of small craft harbours. He talked about some of the first nations small craft harbours that are literally the lifeline to the outside world. In many communities there are no roads and in some no airports. The only way people can get in and out of their communities is via boat. These small craft harbours in first nations communities are a lifeline to the outside community, but they are also an economic opportunity. It is important to factor that into any equation here.
In some of our communities, the small craft harbour also serves as the point where medical evacuations can happen. For example, on Thetis and Kuper Islands, which are serviced by ferries, when the ferries do not run there needs to be a point at which a medical evacuation can happen in the off-hours. For a while, there was a challenge in finding a place where a medical evacuation boat could have a slip to deal with medical emergencies, on Kuper Island in particular.
Therefore, small craft harbours in many of our communities are a vital link for people who have a medical emergency. It is important that we continue to talk about how much these small craft harbours mean in many of our smaller communities.
One of the things we talked about is divestiture. I want to reference the minority report that the member for raised when the committee tabled its report. I want to read for members part of his position, because I think this is an important element when we are talking about divesture. He said:
|| It is the NDP's position that any divestiture of wharves or small craft harbours must have financial and human resources in place long before the divestiture takes place.
|| Furthermore, the NDP maintains that the federal government must continue to be a partner in supporting small craft harbours and wharves--even after the divestiture of a small craft harbour...to local harbour authorities. The federal government should continue to remain a partner after the divestiture to assist with necessary maintenance like dredging or critical repairs to infrastructure. Fishermen and SCH boards simply cannot afford to pay or raise money for critical infrastructure improvements. Fishermen and coastal communities should not be required to shoulder the burden for critical infrastructure improvements to small craft harbours. In so many remote regions of our country, small fishing harbours are indispensable and remain critical infrastructure for economic development opportunities in our coastal communities.
I absolutely support the call of the member for for this ongoing partnership when divestiture happens. As I said earlier, divestiture is an important tool in having local control over a valuable resource in our communities, but many of our small communities simply cannot afford the ongoing repair and maintenance once the terms of the divestiture are over.
I want to turn briefly again to the North Cowichan municipal Chemainus small craft harbour. A couple of years back, an expansion was required. Again, of course, when we are talking about revenue generation anyone of us who has written a business plan knows that we have to crunch the numbers. What happened in Chemainus was that they needed to extend the docks in order to have the revenue generation to maintain the viability of the facility.
Representatives of the municipality of North Cowichan sought other partners to assist in this dock expansion. They were over $300,000 short. They were fortunate in that they made an application to the Department of Western Economic Diversification and ended up with the $300,000-plus required to take on the whole package, but it was such a complicated process.
In regard to that, let us look at smaller municipal councils. In many of our smaller communities, where these small craft harbours are, there are small municipal councils that do not have extensive engineering capacity. North Cowichan does have extensive engineering capacity, but many of them do not. Many first nations communities do not have that kind of engineering capacity or the environmental capacity.
The expansion in Chemainus was extremely complicated, of course, because there was dredging and it had to happen at certain times of the year in terms of fisheries. It was an enormous undertaking for a small municipal council.
It is an example of where that partnership with DFO and the Ministry of Transport is absolutely essential. That financial partnership and that expertise partnership are absolutely essential in order to make sure that those small craft harbours are operating in the most environmentally friendly, responsible and sustainable way. This is an important role that the federal government can continue to play.
Other members in the House have touched on a couple of these issues, but I want to raise the issue of volunteers once again. I spoke about the fact that the harbour commission members at North Cowichan council were all volunteers. These men and women put in countless hours.
This issue did come up before the standing committee, which talked about the need to address “volunteer fatigue and the need for additional support within Harbour Authorities”. I want to raise a couple of points from the report, which stated:
|| Harbour Authorities are typically non-profit, locally controlled organizations which operate and manage harbours. According to DFO, they are an efficient way of offering services, strengthening public investment and providing opportunities for communities to participate fully in the planning, operation and maintenance of harbour facilities.
I would agree with all of that. Harbour authorities are a way to make sure that the ongoing local operation is connected to the community plans and to the vision that the community has for itself. In many of our communities that are not so remote, such as Chemainus, Ladysmith and Cowichan Bay, these small craft harbours are right in the middle of our town centres. It is important that the local communities have some control over those facilities and that they are integrated into the community planning.
However, the report raised a couple of concerns around what is happening with volunteers. It stated:
|| For a few years now, these volunteers have experienced frustration due to insufficient budgets to maintain the harbours; increased complexity in harbour management; the difficulty of recruiting new volunteers; and, apprehension regarding the responsibilities and liability related to management of deteriorating facilities.
Testimony from the report stated:
|| “Volunteers are experiencing frustration. They are physically and morally affected by the present situation. They have given a lot to their community, and when they see their fishing harbour deteriorate from year to year for lack of funding, they become discouraged”.
Again, I know how many hours many of these volunteers invest in what is often a love for them. They have a passion for their small craft harbours. Either they are fishermen or recreational boaters, or they are recreational sport fishers or divers. Whatever their background is, they bring that passion to making sure that their small craft harbour stays viable for their ongoing use and for the use of their children and grandchildren.
In my community we are very fortunate, because we are not facing the same situation as other communities around deterioration, but I know that the volunteer hours people put in do wear them out. I think we need to look at how we support those volunteers, whether it is with infrastructure to help them coordinate their meetings or in making sure they have opportunities to go to meetings. In British Columbia, the association of small craft harbours has regular meetings where volunteers get to participate, learn about good ideas and gain support. It really is important that we look for ways to support the volunteer activity that happens in this country around small craft harbours.
The last issue I want to turn my attention to is the development of new small craft harbour infrastructure in Nunavut. The standing committee's report states:
|| Significant increase[s] in economic spin-offs in terms of employment and capacity building are expected to emerge from the development of the territory's fish harvesting, processing and marketing sectors. Without functional harbours however, this will likely not happen.
The report goes on to talk about the fact that over a number of years reports that have been generated have talked about the importance of harbour infrastructure for Nunavut. What is actually being looked at is fishing harbour infrastructure in seven small communities, including Pangnirtung.
I had the good fortune to be in Pangnirtung last summer. We were looking at a number of factors in Pangnirtung, but one thing we did was look at the small craft harbours up there. Of course in the north the conditions are substantially different than they are in my part of the country on Vancouver Island. Although we have serious tidal issues and we have good tidal swings in my area, we do not have the kinds of tidal swings they have in the north and we certainly do not have to deal with the ice conditions.
The investment in small craft harbours in the north seems like it needs that attention. When we are talking about economic development and opportunities for people in the north to not only maintain their sovereignty but also to expand their livelihood, it would seem like a good investment.
In conclusion, I want to thank the member from the Bloc for bringing this motion forward today. I think it is an important debate to have in this House as we recognize the importance of these small craft harbours in our communities, not only as economic or recreational links but often as the safety link, the link to ferries and to other communities that simply do not have road infrastructure.
I would encourage all members in the House to support this motion. I hope the government will follow through and make the kinds of investments that are needed in small craft harbours in order to keep their viability in our country.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the human dynamo, the member of Parliament for .
I have served on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for a number of years and I was the chair of that committee for a number of years. I must say that some of the most interesting times that I spent in the House of Commons were those years that I served on that particular committee.
Sometimes it was heavy, hot and heated in the committee because it was during a time of change when the Canadian Coast Guard went from Transport Canada to DFO. It was also the time when many of the port authorities were set up. People inherently resist change, but this made it one of the most interesting periods of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for some years.
I am also very proud of the role that my party played at that time in setting up the port authorities that members are talking about today. Previous to harbour authorities, harbour repair was based more on which side of government a particular MP sat. That fact determined whether or not his or her harbour would be repaired.
I know that in my particular riding of Egmont, and if anyone looks at the map, they will see the importance of the fishing industry to my riding. Fishing is probably the most important industry in the province or in my riding. The 11 or 12 harbours there, now with the addition of the Lennox Island First Nation harbour, received almost no repairs for over 10 years.
The story I like to quote, when I speak with fishermen, is when the chairman of the fisherman's group in Howards Cove sent a letter to the minister of the day, with a copy to me, along with pictures of himself and his fellow fishermen standing in the basin of his harbour on a sand dune. The caption asked to please dredge the harbour so that the fishermen could go fishing in the spring.
I went to the minister of the day, who is now the Lieutenant-Governor of the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and showed him the pictures. We had a meeting. He did come up with the dollars to do the dredging and I give him credit for that. Knowing his sense of humour, which he still retains to this day, he said that now I owe him a big favour.
At that time the minister was trying to increase the carapace size of lobsters. He wanted fishermen to leave bigger lobsters in the ocean to propagate and grow larger. The minister said that I now had to support him in increasing the carapace size of lobsters to two feet between the eyes. Anyone who knows John Crosbie would know exactly what he was referring to there.
In 1993, when Brian Tobin was the minister of the day, we had to address the great problem that was coming in small craft harbours and the lack of dollars that were allocated, and the way they were allocated to the Atlantic provinces and probably to the whole country, whether it was recreational harbours or active working harbours.
The previous Liberal government implemented the concept of fishermen taking control in managing the infrastructure of the harbours that they used every day, and to priorize what had to be done in the long term. It was up to us as politicians to furnish the dollars that could address those problems.
It was astronomical the amount of dollars that were required to bring many of the harbours up to scratch. I know in Judes Point in Tignish Shore, which is the largest small craft harbour in Atlantic Canada, the harbour was basically returning to the earth. It was a very dangerous proposition for the fishermen of Judes Point to go out through the run at Tignish Run. They were taking their lives in their hands twice a day going in and coming out with the timbers that were leaning into the run.
Miminegash and Northport, two other very large small craft harbours in my riding, had not seen any kind of repairs, almost no minimum maintenance, for quite some time.
This happened quite often. In those years it was the position of the Atlantic caucus that we should set up a different way to do things. We should give the fishermen a bigger role to play, a role that would tie them into their workplace more often. Before it was totally the government's responsibility and there was a hostile situation between fishermen and government officials on the condition of the harbour and what to do about it.
Even though the federal government still owns those properties, they are managed and run by local fishermen on their own time. Some harbours have difficulty getting enough fishermen to volunteer for those positions. The difference in the attitude of the fishermen before the harbour authorities were instituted and today is like night and day. There will always be problems and a shortage of dollars.
In the past two years of the Conservative government, it appears we have gone back to when the bureaucrats used to say they were colour-blind. Now the colour is a little more tinged on the blue side if we look at what has been done in my riding over the past two years compared to what was done before on a regular implementation basis. The only work that has been done in the last two years is work that was already approved before the change in government.
According to the information I have, $5 million or $6 million worth of repairs was required, from Tignish, West Point, Skinners Pond, Miminegash Harbour and so on. It is difficult for the fishermen and the harbour authorities to get any kind of an answer as to whether those repairs will even start to be carried out or if they are approved. There is supposed to be a grading system whereby the budget will be allocated among the large harbours, A harbours, B harbours and so on. The harbours I have talked about are large small craft harbours that need continuous repair and dredging.
On the Northumberland Strait side, the harbours of Cape Egmont and Egmont Bay need to be dredged almost every three years as a matter of course. The sand runs from west to east and these harbours eventually fill up with sand and have to be dredged. It is part of the minimum maintenance of that harbour. Every year they have to practically beg to get a dredge allocated to the area so they can go fishing.
It is always a battle for members of Parliament to get the government of the day, whether Liberal or Conservative, to allocate the proper funding for the program. When the right hon. member for was minister of finance, he would make his rounds to all the caucuses and we were able to convince him to put $100 million into that program. To give him his due, he implemented that. The fund over the five year period has now expired. The fishermen need the program not only to be reinstituted, but to be upgraded as well.
As stated in my question for the previous speaker, the amount of damage done by storm surges and the environmental conditions of today can cause a lot of damage to small craft harbours no matter how well the wharves are constructed. They need to be protected with rock and granite.
After the storm surge of 2000, the damage done to Seacow Pond,Tignish Harbour and Miminegash will not re-occur because of the repairs made at that time to protect those harbours. This needs to be continued.
Mr. Speaker, before I start, I want to comment on a remark by a member of the government on the new $33 billion building Canada fund. This was made after the member for explained the serious underfunding for small boat harbours.
It gives me an opportunity, as many members have already mentioned, to talk about the deception that some government members have tried to foist on mayors and city councils and Canadians in general, that $33 billion in new dollars could be used for small boat harbours or anything like that.
First, a good proportion of that money was already earmarked under Liberal programs, such as the gas tax, et cetera. This is ongoing funding of Liberal programs, including money for the Pacific gateway. That leaves only about $7.4 billion. Therefore, it is not $33 billion; it is $7.4 billion.
The $4 million of that $7.4 billion in new money is for the Asia gateway. I do not think a man or woman will jump in a little motorboat and go to Asia, so probably will not to be used for small boat harbours. Then there are $2.1 billion for gateways and borders. I do not really think small boat harbours will be funded because they are on the border. Then there are the PPP projects, for $1.3 billion. There is no word on what that might be and no suggestion that it might be small boat harbours. Then direct funds to the provinces are $2.3 billion.
That leaves $1.3 billion, and it is not over one year. It is over seven years. Therefore, if something needs to be done soon, we do not have $33 billion to do it. If we consider all the sewage, water, road and recreational problems, I do not think a lot of that will go for small boat harbours. In fact, I would like to see exactly how many projects under the building Canada fund have gone to small boat harbours this year. Therefore, that was not a very practical suggestion.
I will speak to the motion from three unique perspectives, the three responsibilities I have in Parliament. The first is as critic for the north. The second is as co-chair for the very large outdoor caucus of Parliament. The third is as chair of the rural caucus. I hope to give some different perspectives on the motion and on some of the items contained in report. Virtually every member of Parliament from all parties has suggested, and credit to them, the importance and the need for more funding for these small boat harbours.
As chair of the rural caucus, I think we all know there is a huge unemployment problem the rural areas, much more than in urban areas. It is not necessarily easy when one industry town loses that industry. There are not a lot of options to create a sustainable community immediately.
If I do not run out of time, I will go into the economic benefits small boat harbours have to rural communities in great detail. It is one of those unique, rare instances.
When we have found a solution, why would we not fund it rather than do more studies? Also, if we do not do something in the rural areas, we then have a huge migration to the cities. It is not totally healthy to have an empty countryside. I could elaborate on that at great length but I probably will not have time.
In 2007-08, we have $97 million for small craft harbours, which is 4.5% lower than last year, so there is room to move. I think people are all in agreement with that. We are all looking anxiously toward the budget.
As the critic for the north, I want to focus in on the north for a few minutes and the benefits the motion would have for the north, and some of the other related initiatives in the north for which our party stands.
First of all, as some members have mentioned, the report suggests building seven new small craft harbours in Nunavut. I am very thankful for the strong leadership of the Liberal Party in announcing that we would forthwith build and fund harbours in Pangnirtung, Clyde River, Kugaaruk, Pond Inlet, Chesterfield Inlet, Repulse Bay and Qikiqtarjuaq.
Those harbours in Nunavut would be very important in an area of extreme high unemployment and would create opportunities for employment. People have been trying to do that for decades but there are limited possibilities. This would be a very natural one. It is one that people of Nunavut want. The government was involved in the report. It is certainly an area we could help. It would be an obvious area to support.
They could be used by the local fisheries, which could get bigger because the ice is rapidly disappearing due to global warming. There is already an active fishery of turbot, shrimp and a few other species. One can imagine the difficulty Nunavut fishermen face in that harsh environment if there are no harbours in which to dock their boats. I was fighting for more quotas for the fisher people of Nunavut because not all the quotas in their area even go to them, but it is pretty hard to argue for that if they have no place to store their boats safely between fishing trips.
Another high priority for us, and the Liberal leader again has taken great leadership in this area, is to encourage an enhancement and acceleration of the mapping of the north. If we do not map the seabed in the north we could lose what could have been part of Canada. Once again, harbours can play a role in ensuring that the people doing the mapping have access to the appropriate harbours.
There is another related area on which I am also proud of the Liberal leader. We would ban dumping of garbage and food waste into the Arctic Ocean. It was announced last year that was going to happen. I also have a private member's bill to that effect.
I will mention some other important reasons much more quickly than I would like because I do not have too much time left. Small boat harbours are social centres for the communities, going back to the days of Christopher Columbus. On windy days these spots are social places, gathering places. On the east and west coasts they are a great tourism boon. They keep Canadians in Canada and enhance the revenues of local businesses. It is a clean way of getting foreign exchange if Americans and others harbour their recreational boats and sailboats in Canada. It is a great way to create business revenue for Canada.
We have to remember that there is a difference. It is not the same as people in inland cities who go to cottages. Boaters cannot just leave their boats near the beach overnight because the tides rise up and down and their boats would be gone in the morning. Appropriate structures are needed to handle that.
Safety is also very important on the coasts and in the north. I remember one case where some Yukoners got an award for rescuing some people in a boat. The people were very close to dying because of hypothermia. If there is no harbour with boats, how are people going to get out to save people?
The other thing is that it is very helpful for our aboriginal fisheries and commercial fisheries. Over 74,000 fishermen could be affected. Having an active small boating area on the coast helps prevent drugs from coming into our country. There is security. Illegal immigration is occurring more and more on our coasts. There is aquaculture. The 101 harbours in B.C. contribute over $800 million in related economic development. There is scuba diving.
As chair of the outdoor caucus, I can say it is a huge bonus to Canada to have recreational fishing. The people who fish outnumber those who play golf and hockey in Canada, people over 15.
In conclusion, there are all sorts of benefits, more than what someone might think on the surface, in these harbours being effective. It is a very important role that the federal government must continue to play.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the concurrence motion on the committee report regarding small craft harbours.
I am sure every member in the House recognizes that our present has been a great advocate, proponent and supporter of fisheries infrastructure and the industry itself across Canada. He was faced with some difficult and onerous tasks when he took over as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans from the previous Liberal government.
The Liberals had cut aid based funding in 2005 by $20 million. After we formed government, the Liberals tried to bring forward a motion in committee asking that the funding be reinstated. Not only did the minister reinstate the $20 million, but he added $11 million to that base funding.
Without question there is a huge infrastructure deficit in small craft harbours. Through good management and prudent fiscal policy our minister has attempted to address this infrastructure deficit, but it will be ongoing. In the present fiscal climate it would be irresponsible to suddenly find $600 million to fix all the problems left by the previous government. However, there is a plan and that is what we really need to talk about.
There is wharf infrastructure on the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, inland on the Great Lakes, and in the high Arctic. This wharf infrastructure did not establish itself overnight and some of the problems with it are not going to be fixed overnight.
What I have seen from our present minister is a willingness to look at that infrastructure in order to develop some policies and procedures that would allow us to continue to invest in fisheries infrastructure on an annual basis a reasonable amount of the public purse. As the present minister and I have said many times, the wharf is to fishermen what the highway is to farmers. Highway infrastructure is still needed by the fishery to get its products from the wharf, but a boat cannot be put in the water and hauled back out without some wharf infrastructure. This is all part of a viable realistic and achievable fishery, especially the small boat fishery, that class of boats under 64 or 65 feet.
The dynamics have changed. There are a number of wharves throughout my riding of South Shore--St. Margaret's. There is the East Dover wharf, the West Dover wharf, Port Mouton or Lunenburg County in Riverport. There is also Clark's Harbour and Woods Harbour. Those are only a few. There are dozens more.
Those wharves were built for 35 foot boats with maybe only 14 feet of beam. Today's boats are 44 to 50 feet, the same boat class, but they have 23 to 26 feet of beam. There is no comparison. One boat today takes up the same amount of space that two boats would have taken up 25 or 30 years ago. I am sure my colleagues opposite recognize that this has put an added strain on the fishery and on the wharf infrastructure.
We now have boats that are tied up abreast. Where we would put perhaps two, four or even six boats abreast in the past, we can get three today.
I have a number of wharves and Woods Harbour is a prime example where we might have 55 to 65 boats tied up, all fishing out of one or two smaller wharves. To get that boat that is tied up against the wharf out when that fisherman wants to leave, and he has five boats tied up alongside of it, that is quite a job.
I think it is important to mention priorities and some of the issues that the other members have mentioned. I believe members who spoke earlier have recognized that small craft harbour infrastructure is a priority. I certainly recognize that, our government recognizes that and, In particular, the minister recognizes that.
In 2006, I know for a fact there was unanimous support for another such concurrence motion, similar or the same as the motion today, but the financial value asked was different. It has increased by about $50 million in this interim report. However, the principle is the same.
To recognize the value of the harbours and their accessibility for those who use them and even the volunteers who run them, and very often they are volunteers who run them, is significant. There is a principle involved and the government supports that principle. We recognize the importance of traditional industries, such as the fisheries, as we will find in the most recent Speech from the Throne.
I do not mean to belabour this subject but we need to talk about the government's priorities and the government's costs.
This morning, the was in committee. A question was asked of the minister and he restated the fact that small craft harbours and wharf infrastructure in coastal Canada continues to be, not just a priority for the government but a priority for the minister. He recognizes the challenge that he faces, and it is not one that we take lightly.
If we look at the small craft harbour program with the priority approach, we could have 10 harbours and we need to prioritize them. There is no way to get around it. We have to say which harbour needs assistance on a priority basis and we also have to balance that with the amount of dollars that some of these harbours bring in.
I have many harbours throughout the riding where some wharves would probably bring in excess of $100 million. There are others that would work hard to bring in $5 million. It is a different fishery in different locations.
However, if we look at that small craft harbour program in 2006-07 and 2007-08, it has received an additional $11 million through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans transformational plan. That funding falls to $8 million in 2008-09 and ongoing.
Therefore, let us be clear about dollars. While the program was scheduled to lose $20 million in sunset funding at the beginning of 2007-08, cabinet in December 2006 approved adding this $20 million permanently to the program's budget, A-base funding that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech.
This A-base funding is important because the $20 million that the Liberals cut from the program was never guaranteed A-base funding. It was simply funding that would never be available again. It was a kind of one time only funding.
When I rose to my feet I know the member for wanted an intervention. Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound. I understand I have a bit of time left, so I will take a couple more minutes because I have a few more things to say.
Some hon. members: Shame, shame.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand and speak to this motion.
If there is anyone other than the hon. who has a keen, distinct and certainly genuine interest in small craft and harbours, it is the member for . He certainly knows what he is talking about.
I want to go back to the funding history on harbours and small craft. My colleague from the NDP spoke about the ongoing funding. This problem began a number of years ago when the previous Liberal government did not put enough money into funding. Sometimes we think we will save some pennies when we save some dollars. In the case before us I am going to give some examples that will show what that kind of planning can do.
We could compare it to driving our cars. As most people do, I change the oil in my car every 5,000 kilometres. If I do not change it to 10,000 or 20,000 kilometres, it will still probably be okay. I can guarantee though that over the life of that car I am going to spend a lot of extra money putting a motor in that car much sooner than if I had added up the cost of those extra oil changes.
I will go from that example to the issue of wharves. I have three wharves in my riding. Tobermory is at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. Tobermory is also the home of the very first underwater national park in Canada. The harbour at Tobermory was in bad shape. It was ignored back 10 years ago and the repair costs now have increased eight to ten times. If that wharf had been repaired back at the time when the repairs were first required, there would be a whole lot more money to spread around to other harbours.
My riding also has the Lion's Head harbour half way down the peninsula. It is also in need of repair. In my hometown of Wiarton, it is a shame what has happened there with the wharf. Funds have to be made available for these repairs. The minister's efforts to go ahead with those repairs are paramount.
I want to go back to my colleague from . Another reason I wanted to speak today is because not all our wharves are situated on the east side or the west side of Canada. My riding is situated on the Great Lakes. Some people might ask why is the member for speaking on this issue.
Perhaps they would say that I have the second largest beef riding in the country and what does he know about wharves. There are many wharves in my riding: Owen Sound, Meaford, Stokes Bay and Howdenvale. I could go on with many more. The funding is important not only for our ocean ports and harbours but for small craft harbours such as a mine and right across the country.
I want to give some history of Tobermory and the Great Lakes. There is a story which probably has some truth to it, that the infamous Al Capone, after some of his great heists and in order to take off some of the heat from the law, would come up from Lake Michigan. He had a cabin at Bay Finn near Killarney. It was very close to Tobermory and rumour has it that was a frequent stop of his for supplies or whatever.
For many people pleasure boating is a tourist industry in today's economic climate. Agriculture is number one in my riding, but tourism is a very close second.
The visitors that the harbours and wharves enjoy through the course of a summer would stagger everyone, as well as the size of the boats that go in today. When people are invited to come to our country to spend their money and use these small harbours and wharves, we need an asset that is not just safe and does the job as a working site, but there has to be a bit of pride in upkeep and that kind of thing.
I speak very highly of this motion. It would go a long way toward fixing up some of the harbours that have been neglected for so long and I know that the minister has been working on that.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today during the debate on small craft harbours. We all know the terrible state that regional harbours are in. I have the good fortune to represent the people of the North Shore, in a riding that spans 1,350 kilometres along the north shore of the St. Lawrence and the Gulf, and is divided into 74 municipalities, including aboriginal reserves. We are taking about a major investment of $400 to $600 million to safely reopen the wharves and small craft harbours, primarily on the North Shore.
The federal government's only investment so far was for the installation of a sign, about 18 by 24 inches, that says: Dangerous wharf. No trespassing. What we have in our ridings are houses of cards and crumbling infrastructure. Fishermen, shippers and users of these wharves cannot safely be on them.
I have had to intervene a number of times, during the time of the Liberals as well as the Conservatives. But as I said, we are helping developing countries build roads and create infrastructure, but unfortunately, we do not even maintain our own infrastructure. It is not a matter of money; it is a matter of bad faith on the part of the government, which does not invest in its own facilities.
There was a port divestiture program. The problem is that there is no money in the program. The government would like to hand these harbours over to the harbour authorities or the municipalities, but unfortunately, no one is interested in acquiring a white elephant or a house of cards. It takes money. We know there is a municipality in Quebec that would like to acquire a harbour infrastructure. This has to be done through an order in council, and the municipality does not necessarily have the means to maintain, manage and operate these wharves.
I was jokingly saying that the federal government helps developing countries build roads and infrastructure, but, unfortunately, it does not even maintain its own infrastructure. We see that with harbours and also with airports.
Do you know how the federal government settled the deficit at the Baie-Comeau airport? It closed the control tower, eliminated the airport fire fighters and removed parking security.
At the time, the materials used for building the harbours were not protected by breakwaters. There is a dredging problem, a safety problem for loading and unloading, and problems launching the boats. We are asking the government to maintain its own infrastructure and the wharves. It is the federal government's responsibility and property.
On the North Shore, in the large riding of Manicouagan, and mainly in the Lower North Shore, there are no roads. The only access to these towns is by water in spring and summer, and everything comes in and goes out by boat.
The federal government did not just build these wharves on the North Shore on a whim; it built them out of necessity. There was a growing desire to use the seaway. Perhaps if it were used more there would be fewer transport trucks on the road, which would be better for the environment, and our infrastructure could be used. It is hard to use the seaway without the necessary harbour infrastructure.
What we are asking for is very simple: that the federal government use money and maintain its own facilities.