Good morning everyone. Welcome to meeting number 106 of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, on Tuesday, June 5. Today we are going to be reviewing the main estimates, 2018-19, votes 1, 5, and 10 under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
I would like to welcome today a number of people who are no strangers to this committee. We have Catherine Blewett, Deputy Minister; Kevin Stringer, Associate Deputy Minister; Jen O'Donoughue, Assistant Deputy Minister and Chief Financial Officer; Jeffery Hutchinson, Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard; Sylvie Lapointe, Assistant Deputy Minister, Fisheries and Harbour Management; Philippe Morel, Assistant Deputy Minister, Aquatic Ecosystems Sector; Mario Pelletier, Deputy Commissioner, Operations, Canadian Coast Guard.
Thank you all for attending.
I understand that this morning instead of having two 10-minute opening remarks, we'd like one session of 20 minutes. Instead of doing a number of back and forth, we'll go with one.
I believe we also would like to welcome to the committee today Mr. Deltell from Louis-Saint-Laurent and Mr. Poilievre from Carleton.
Thank you so much for joining us today.
We will get started with you, Ms. Blewett, for your opening remarks. Please go ahead.
Good morning, Madam Chair.
It's a real pleasure to be here with you to discuss the main estimates for 2018-19, which were tabled in mid-April.
Madam Chair, you have introduced our party, so I will skip that and save a little bit of time for the committee.
To begin with, I want to thank you for this opportunity to share the significant results we have achieved for Canadians. Through the main estimates for 2018-19, the department's total budget for this fiscal year amounts to $2.5 billion. This represents a net increase of $244.7 million over last year. This increase is due mainly to new funding for the oceans protection plan, for maintaining mission-critical services to Canadians, for the Atlantic fisheries fund, and for ongoing renewal and expansion of indigenous fisheries programs and initiatives.
I want to take this opportunity to provide some examples of how the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or DFO, and the Coast Guard are using this funding to meet the needs and expectations of Canadians.
We're already seeing far-reaching benefits in coastal and indigenous communities on all three coasts from our oceans protection plan. For example, initial training has been completed for the crew of a new inshore rescue boat station in Rankin Inlet. Starting this summer, crew members will be able to provide assistance to mariners in local waters who are in distress or in need of help, and will also be able to share valuable information on boating safety when needed.
The Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre St. John's has been officially reopened. This sub-centre is being staffed around the clock by highly trained maritime search and rescue coordinators who coordinate the on-the-water responses to maritime rescue incidents in the unique, challenging, and often dangerous waters off Newfoundland and Labrador.
The oceans protection plan is also funding a unique training program on Vancouver Island that pairs traditional indigenous knowledge with the Coast Guard's search and rescue expertise. To date, 27 members of 20 first nations communities in B.C. have graduated from three coastal nations search and rescue courses that are helping to build on the role they already play in maritime safety in their communities.
The oceans protection plan's $75-million coastal restoration fund is also being implemented on all three coasts with the help of our many partners. Last year, Fisheries and Oceans received $167 million that was used to shore up a number of key program areas. They included Coast Guard assets and core activities; our science and fisheries management, including conservation and protection; as well as the physical infrastructure and information technology needed to carry out our mandate.
I'd like to give you a few very quick examples. Funding to operate and refurbish aging ships is helping us to ensure that the government will be able to provide reliable, essential marine services until new vessels from the national shipbuilding program are put into service. Commissioner Hutchinson and Mr. Pelletier will be able to provide to the committee any details on the Coast Guard's work.
As you know, budget 2018 provides $250 million over two years for improvements at small craft harbours across Canada. This is in line with the government's commitment to support harbours and local economies, and foster job creation. Members of this committee had expressed a desire to learn which of the projects will be going forward, including when engineering and construction work is to begin. I expect that the will very soon be in a position to share this information with you.
We're also working to ensure the sustainable use of the oceans' resources and improve how fisheries are managed on the high seas through monitoring, control, and surveillance, to curb incidents of illegal fishing and to improve international fisheries and oceans governance over the long term. Curbing IUU fishing is a priority for Canada. Actually, today Canada is joining the United Nations General Assembly and the global community in observing an official day, June 5, to promote awareness of the need to combat IUU fishing. Protecting species on the high seas and in our domestic waters is a priority.
As the North Atlantic right whale population returns, the government has put in place a number of measures to try and prevent any further deaths from occurring this summer.
I'll just let the committee know that late yesterday we received word that there are, in fact, 75 of the North Atlantic right whales in the gulf waters as of yesterday, so the population really is moving. It's quite a change.
already announced several changes to the 2018 snow crab fishery in the southern Gulf of the St. Lawrence that will help protect right whales from getting tangled in fishing gear.
Important work is also happening on the west coast with respect to the recovery and the protection of the southern resident killer whales. We've actively been working to protect this endangered species by recently implementing closures to the chinook fishery in areas where those whales feed and forage, and by introducing new rules that prohibit vessels from approaching closer than 200 metres, which will help minimize noise disturbance and allow the whales to feed more easily. We also are continuing to work with our partners on issues related to critical habitat.
In addition to protecting mariners and the marine environment, federal funding for DFO is essential for achieving reconciliation with indigenous peoples, fostering trade, developing clean technologies, investing in coastal communities, and improving economic opportunities.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I will now turn it over to Ms. O'Donoughue, before taking questions.
Thank you. Good morning, Madam Chair and committee members.
As the deputy minister mentioned, my name is Jen O'Donoughue, and I am the Chief Financial Officer for DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard.
We are pleased to be here this morning to provide a brief overview of the main estimates for 2018-19.
The presentation will be brief. This will allow plenty of time to go through any questions the committee may have. I will invite you to follow along using the PowerPoint presentation, which I believe all of you have a copy of.
As outlined on slide 3 of the presentation, the timing of the estimates has changed in 2018-19. tabled interim estimates back in February to ensure departments were able to start the fiscal year. The key change is the timing of main estimates, which now follows the budget.
As with all supply bills, they are referred to committee, where the contents are studied before voting actually takes place, which is why we are here today. The government tabled main estimates after the budget to better reflect budget priorities. This provides greater clarity and transparency to Canadians, and makes it easier for you, as parliamentarians, to scrutinize the estimates as part of your oversight of government spending.
I would also quickly like to note that our resources are no longer presented using the program alignment architecture. We now present, for information purposes only, our resources using our new departmental results framework. In the main estimates, specifically on page II–94 of the English main estimates, or page II-197 of the French, our resources are broken down by core responsibility: marine operations and response, fisheries, marine navigation, and aquatic ecosystems.
The numbers are presented in a similar fashion in the table on page II-93, but we broke the information down further to give you more detail.
This is on page II-93 of the English version.
The main estimates for 2018-19 total $2.45 billion, which represents a net increase of $244.7 million over last year.
I will now outline some of the key adjustments. These items can also be found on page II-94 in the highlights section. Our largest increase is related to the oceans protection plan, at $275 million. In her opening remarks, the deputy provided some examples of what the OPP is allowing us to do.
The next increase, at $244.7 million, is funding stemming from the comprehensive review of our programs and services to ensure we are able to maintain mission-critical services to Canadians. There is also an increase of $58.6 million in the Atlantic fisheries fund, which is now included in main estimates. This seven-year initiative, which started in 2017-18, supports the fish and seafood sector in Atlantic Canada as it transitions through significant challenges facing the region.
The final increase I will highlight today is an additional $42.2 million for the ongoing renewal and expansion of our indigenous fisheries programs and initiatives, which support the commitment to promoting the economic resilience of indigenous communities.
There are two additional planned adjustments. They represent planned decreases to funding profiles as the initiatives are nearing successful completion and the funding is winding down. This funding was temporary in nature. The first is a funding profile change to our federal infrastructure investments. The majority of these initiatives have been successfully completed. The second relates to funding for the offshore fisheries science vessels as the vessels are approaching the completion stage.
On the last slide, we have outlined DFO's budget 2018 measures. This information is similar to the budget 2018 annex included in these main estimates, specifically page A1-4, or A1-6 in the French version. This is a key pillar to 's estimates reform.
Please note that before DFO can access any of these amounts, all initiatives will require approval of Treasury Board ministers. The budget implementation vote sets clear parameters for the allocation of funds. We cannot seek additional funding nor can we reallocate towards other initiatives or other purposes. Treasury Board Secretariat will report the allocations by department and by measure to Parliament on a monthly basis.
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss our main estimates with you.
My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer any questions you have.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I say welcome to our honourable officials, and thank you for being with us today.
I'm going to focus my questions on a couple of topics. First, small craft harbours are very important to my riding of Bonavista—Burin—Trinity, with over 100 harbours on the coastlines of my riding. Fishers and recreational boaters rely on them, both for their livelihoods and the enjoyment they get from recreational boating. On this note, I was pleased to see such significant investment of $250 million into maintaining our small craft harbours. It is clear that the government cares about investing in the coastal communities that we live in.
Could you please tell us if the department has finalized its investment plans for 2018-19, as it relates to small craft harbours? When will we know the plan for allocating this money?
Thank you. Good morning everyone.
We did receive some substantial investments into the program. It's B-base funding of $250 million over a two-year period. We are currently moving the list of projects through approvals. The money we received is for maintenance, repairs, and dredging operations for our core fishing harbours. There's also a significant amount that will be going to divestiture of non-core fishing harbours, to reduce the department's risk in this regard.
As our deputy mentioned, the A-base funding that we have is about $100 million every year. Those projects are under way for this year. We're confident we'll be able to deliver on the program. We have a strong track record of doing that. Over the last three years, in addition to our A-base funding of $100 million, we've been able to spend over $400 million in additional funds. As soon as we have the list finalized, we'll be sharing it with the committee.
With regard to the oceans protection plan, we have a historic investment in protecting our oceans, which is the lifeblood of many of our communities, of course. I was proud that this plan provided for the reopening of the Coast Guard substation, which you referenced in your opening comments, and allowed for the building of two new lifeboat stations, one that is located in my riding in Old Perlican.
Could you please inform us how the funds for the oceans protection plan have been rolling out, and the progress we've made on the various pillars of the plan?
Thank you very much for the question.
This year, the rollout of the oceans protection plan is going to be a huge focus for the department. I also referenced in my opening remarks some of the contribution funding that will go to many of our third parties through restoration projects. Those are going to happen across the country, and they're going to be a tremendous advantage as we work to restore critical habitat across the country.
The commissioner of the Coast Guard, and actually assistant commissioner Mario Pelletier, can talk to you about some of the investments in the Coast Guard. These investments are in a couple of areas. They're in the people, building up the capacity that we'd frankly lost in terms of the men and women who serve Canadians in the Coast Guard. Also, they're in the physical assets that have been coming, the purchasing of vessels and situating search and rescue onshore. It's also working through a lot of the basic infrastructure: the radar, the ability to detect vessels and follow through.
Mario, do you have other comments?
Okay. Good. Thank you for that.
Turning to aquaculture, we had an incident in Washington state over a year ago now, I think, where there was a huge escape, and based on that, Washington state is moving away from ocean-based aquaculture. What is the department's reading of the state of aquaculture on the west coast?
I understand that the conditions on the east coast are different, and the approach is different, but on the west coast, what are you seeing, what are you hearing, and where are you going?
Actually, I should say that aquaculture on the west coast does warrant a lot of our attention. Late last night I spoke with the deputy minister from British Columbia because we're trying to work collaboratively with the provinces as they work their way through aquaculture.
On the west coast, indigenous engagement is really important. You referenced the escape in Washington state. It certainly has raised the profile and a lot of questions.
Canada's chief science adviser is Dr. Mona Nemer. Through the minister's office, we've engaged her to have a look at how we're doing in our decisions on aquaculture. Are we adequately considering science? Is science the backbone for the decisions? That's really going to be strongly guiding us. The science is changing all the time, and we expect that science is going to continue to come out.
Where are we going? We want to work, again, as I mentioned, with British Columbia to find what's acceptable in that jurisdiction. We have a different management regime, as you will know. For example, there is a lot of discussion about aquaculture in the Broughton area. The province is responsible for the tenure—that's where they're located—and then DFO does the licensing. We work co-operatively to make sure that we are achieving the best outcomes. We also do some joint science together.
Commissioner, during your last appearance before this committee, you were requested to table the department's report on the MV Aiviq, the heavy icebreaker proposed as part of project resolute. You said that you would provide it, but later you wrote that you were unable to provide it because you could not disclose it under the access to information rules.
Commissioner, I'm asking you today if you can table with this committee, by the end of this week, the letter from the ATIP commissioner that directed you not to disclose this document.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to all the witnesses for being here this morning. I'm just going to ask a question, and anyone can answer it.
As you know, in my riding of Miramichi, with the Miramichi River, there is an abundance of striped bass. It's usually a good thing. It is a good fish to eat, and it's fun to fish it. I've witnessed that myself. We had the striped bass cup last week, with over 1,000 people participating—counting everybody on the water. It was all good. The issue, however, that we're hearing from some people along the Miramichi River is around at what point it could be an overabundance of that particular species, which is native to the Miramichi.
The Miramichi is, particularly a little to the southwest, as far as we know, the spawning ground for the whole gulf. This committee was on the road last fall. We were all the way up to Cape Breton as well as Gaspé. They've never seen the amount of striped bass that we're seeing now. Sunday there was a rally. A lot of people were concerned. I attended that rally to hear their concerns and answer their questions.
One of their concerns is that we don't have, or at least they wouldn't know, what the upper reference point would be. When do we have so many that it could affect other species, particularly the Atlantic salmon, but also the shad, the smelts, some of the trouts, and other species? The striped bass is a very predatory fish. One of the questions they asked was what the upper reference point would be. Have we established that? At what point would we apply measures or expand the catch allocation?
As you have noted, this is a species that's certainly very abundant right now, and it's expanding. As such, we did increase the bag limit this year and this season. We're also looking at commercial fishing opportunities for some first nations.
Having said that, we are taking quite a precautionary, progressive approach to increasing harvests of that stock. It wasn't that long ago that it was a species of concern and in quite poor condition, so we're trying to be as precautionary as possible. We're still trying to understand the dynamics of the population as well as its impacts on other species, including Atlantic salmon, as you mentioned.
There was a study we conducted with the Atlantic Salmon Federation that did find some smolts of Atlantic salmon in the stomachs of striped bass, but it ranged from about 2% to 17%. We are continuing work this summer to look at stomach contents, working with harvesters and outfitters.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I first want to comment on the question from my colleague, Mr. Doherty, on the department ensuring the full value of any fishery. Many people hold quotas, whether they be an IQ, a trip limit, daily, or weekly. The department doesn't dictate whether that full quota is ever caught. That's up to the individual quota owner. They make a business decision to either fish it or not, so I don't think it's the department's role to guarantee that any quota be fully harvested for any value.
On the Arctic surf clam issue, I have one question to the department, I guess. Does the department believe the minister made the right decision on the allocation of this quota?
You mentioned earlier in some testimony that DFO science is partnering with Norway in looking at oil spill cleanup and how they do things. That kind of perked a little bit of interest for me to partner with Norway.
Have we considered doing the same thing with regard to the seal population? Norway had a problem with seals, and they resolved it. When we ask about seals here at committee, the comments we get from the department are that there's no scientific proof that the seals are detrimental to any of our fish stocks. They're eating fish. There's a study the department did a while back that says how many pounds of fish they eat every day, yet they don't damage the capelin stock, they don't damage the salmon stock, and they don't damage the northern cod stock.
Would the department look at partnering with Norway to see what they did to solve the seal problem?
We've had a number of fishermen present to the committee over the past year or so. A couple of individuals presented in our last study on vessel regulations, which we have almost completed now. Some of their testimony gave a scathing report of the local DFO in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Since they have started fishing, a couple of these individuals seem to feel like they have been targeted by DFO with regard to the number of boardings by officials to inspect what they have in their holds and what they have been catching—the size and everything else. They feel they are being discriminated against because of the testimony they gave here before the committee.
Would the department please look at that? Can you comment on whether you think doing that is good value for your resources spent?
I'm really surprised. I'm sorry about that correlation.
We do fisheries enforcement, and we do think that's an important part of our mandate. However, I'd be really shocked that there would be any sort of conclusion about reprisal. I don't think that's in our makeup.
Again, it's an important part of our mandate, particularly as we look at the prospect of a new fisheries act. We need to make sure we do have people available around the country to enforce our new mandate.
Sylvie, do you have any thoughts?
We're incredibly seized with making sure that we do the very best we can for conservation of the right whales. We think that the numbers we're seeing already do indicate a pretty significant shift: 75 is about one-sixth of the world's population of this species, unfortunately, so we're trying to do our very best.
We're very cognizant, by the way, just before I get to your question on the fixed gear and the traps, that the way in which Canada manages our response to ensuring the safety of these species will be noted internationally. It impacts our trade significantly. Through mechanisms that we have—for example, the Atlantic fish fund—we're encouraging, and in fact we're seeing, project proposals for exactly that kind of gear. I will skip over the technical terms, but they're important innovations that will allow, for instance, putting a trap into the water that can be monitored, followed, relocated by GPS, and brought to the surface without ropes.
Thank you, Mr. Hutchinson.
That concludes our rounds of questions. I would like to thank our department officials for appearing today and answering the questions. Sylvie Lapointe, Mario Pelletier, Jeffery Hutchinson, Catherine Blewett, Kevin Stringer, Jen O'Donoughue, and Philippe Morel, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate your being here.
We're going to move to the main estimates. I still have to go through the official motions on the main estimates. We'll take two seconds until our departmental officials leave the table.
We have committee business we still have to do, and we have quite a bit. I'll suspend for two minutes if you want to grab a coffee.
We are now back in public. We will have to suspend to go in camera for the next session.
We now need to vote on the main estimates.
||DEPARTMENT OF FISHERIES AND OCEANS
||Vote 1—Operating expenditures..........$1,518,591,959
||Vote 5—Capital expenditures..........$586,710,928
||Vote 10—Grants and contributions..........$204,444,700
(Votes 1, 5, and 10 agreed to on division)
The Chair: Shall I report votes 1, 5, and 10, less the amount voted in the interim estimates, under Fisheries and Oceans to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: On division.
The Chair: That will conclude the main estimates. I will report those back to the House.
We're now going to suspend for 10 seconds to go in camera.