Pursuant to Standing Order 81(5), we have supplementary estimates (A) 2018-19, votes 1a, 5a and 10a under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which were referred to the committee on Wednesday, October 24, 2018.
Welcome, everybody, to our regularly scheduled committee meeting.
I want to give a special welcome, of course, to the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard; his parliamentary secretary, Mr. Sean Casey; and departmental officials. We have Catherine Blewett, deputy minister; Sylvie Lapointe, assistant deputy minister, fisheries and harbour management; Philippe Morel, assistant deputy minister, aquatic ecosystems sector; Jen O'Donoughue, assistant deputy minister and chief financial officer; Kevin Stringer, associate deputy minister; and Jeffery Hutchinson, Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard.
None of you are strangers to the committee. You've certainly been here before.
I'd also like to welcome a member on the Conservative side, Mr. David Yurdiga from Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, who is filling in today.
I'm happy to be here in my role as Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to discuss the supplementary estimates (A) for 2018-19.
As was noted, I'm accompanied by a number of my officials and the Honourable Sean Casey, my very able parliamentary secretary.
I am honoured to have been entrusted by the to play a leadership role in the protection of our oceans, coasts, waterways and fisheries to ensure that they are healthy today and for future generations.
Since being appointed as minister, I've developed a better understanding of the work being done by the communities whose livelihoods depend on our fisheries and oceans and on my department. I'm committed to building strong partnerships in order to protect our oceans and freshwater resources, not just in Canada, but as part of a global effort in the face of significant changes to climate and habitat around the world.
I want to commend the members of this committee for their efforts to help strengthen both the Oceans Act and the Fisheries Act. These pieces of legislation will be integral to restoring lost protections to fish and fish habitat, and to moving us toward our marine conservation targets.
Thank you for inviting me today to discuss supplementary estimates (A). Fisheries and Oceans Canada, including the Canadian Coast Guard, is seeking Parliament's approval of $980 million through these estimates.
The men and women of the Coast Guard are hard at work every day across this country, and our government is committed to providing them the tools that they need to keep Canadians safe, to protect our marine environment and to keep our economy moving. That is why over 80% of funding for supplementary estimates (A), $827.3 million, is to be spent on updating the Coast Guard's fleet through the purchase and upgrade of three icebreakers from Chantier Davie in Quebec. The ships will help to ensure that the Coast Guard maintains icebreaking capacity over the next 15 to 20 years as our fleet is being renewed.
Another $57.8 million under the estimates will go to the Coast Guard's offshore oceanographic science vessel project to allow for the completion of the engineering phase, as well as to purchase material to advance the construction of the ship.
As this committee knows, Canada's freshwater and marine coastal areas are inextricably linked to the economic prosperity of Canadians. Our government has an obligation, therefore, to incorporate modern safeguards and restore lost protections in the Fisheries Act. That's why $21.5 million is being sought for Bill to ensure that, should the amendments pass in the other House, we'll have the capacity to implement the act in a timely manner.
We are also seeking to increase investments beyond Bill when it comes to indigenous consultations and negotiations. Some funding included in the estimates, $48.9 million, will support negotiations and reconciliation efforts with indigenous peoples, specifically to implement treaty obligations such as undertaking fisheries studies and enabling access to fisheries, both of which will help indigenous communities improve capacity for self-government and self-determination.
I would like to take a brief moment to outline some of the important work the department has been doing as a result of previous investments.
Two years ago, our government launched the historic $1.5 billion oceans protection plan to make our oceans cleaner, safer and healthier. Since then, we've worked tirelessly to protect our marine coastal areas and endangered whales and to prevent and respond to oil spills, as needed.
Marine safety and accident prevention is an area that our government is firmly committed to through investments and new measures, enhancing Coast Guard capacity with new radar and the reopening of the Kitsilano Coast Guard base. We are leasing two offshore towing vessels for use in the waters off the west coast and increasing our towing capacity by installing tow kits on all of the Coast Guard's major vessels. These types of projects will help us to avoid potential marine pollution incidents. We are also strengthening the Coast Guard's capacity to respond to incidents. For example, we purchased 23 portable skimmers and 67,000 feet of curtain booms to help with potential spills. We opened four Coast Guard facilities, including two search and rescue stations.
A few weeks ago I introduced new measures and $61.5 million to further safeguard the southern resident killer whale population. We are taking decisive action by increasing access to food, reducing threats from vessels and protecting against contaminants.
Beyond implementation of the OPP, we are making significant progress in other areas as well. For instance, we have now protected almost 8% of our marine and coastal areas, up from just 1% when this government came to office in 2015. My officials and I will continue to work to ensure we achieve Canada's 10% commitment by 2020.
I would also like to highlight some of the investments in infrastructure that we're making to ensure that our communities are well supported. In budget 2018, we announced a $250 million commitment to renewing Canada's network of small craft harbours.
This funding is helping to accelerate repairs and enhance existing installations for planned projects at core commercial fishing harbours and at non-core harbours. Small craft harbours are key economic hubs in coastal communities across Canada, and they support regional fishing industries.
Finally, as part of Canada's 2018 G7 presidency , and I co-hosted the G7 ministerial meeting in September on the theme of working together on climate change, oceans and clean energy. We made progress in a number of areas related to healthy oceans and resilient communities. By combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and addressing marine plastic pollution by signing on to the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, we will support sustainable oceans and fisheries management.
We'll also increase our knowledge by expanding our global observation efforts and sharing scientific data in support of the development of clean energy systems in coastal communities that are vulnerable to challenging weather conditions.
Colleagues, Canadians can be proud of the progress we have made to date, but I am sure that you will agree there's still much more to do. Our government will continue to lead the way on new and innovative policies and actions that provide meaningful and lasting protection for our oceans and freshwater resources.
I would like to turn to my parliamentary secretary who will share a little bit about the work he is doing.
I'm pleased to be here with the minister in my role as parliamentary secretary supporting him on various files including North Atlantic right whales and belugas.
As the minister has indicated, our government has made significant investments that are balancing the protection of our marine and coastal areas with the economic needs of our communities. This year, I'm please to report—and I am sure that the committee members well know—that not one right whale has died in Canadian waters as a result of a ship strike or fishing gear entanglement. We're grateful to vessel captains and fishers who are following the protection strategies that we put in place.
The minister recently participated in an industry round table discussion on new measures to protect right whales in the North Atlantic for the upcoming season in 2019.
We made amendments to the marine mammals regulations to put in place species-specific approach distances for species such as belugas to reduce underwater noise caused by ships. We know that more needs to be done and we're working to reduce other key threats to belugas such as pollution and prey availability.
We've recently allocated research funding in order to better understand the impact of contaminants on priority whale species.
We will continue to consult with indigenous groups, provinces, territories and industry to best address concerns in our efforts to continue conservation and protection measures.
I will now turn it over to our chief financial officer, Jen O'Donoughue, to present a few more financial details regarding the supplementary estimates. Following that, we'll be happy to take your questions.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and committee members.
My name is Jen O'Donoughue. I'm the chief financial officer of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
We're pleased to be here this afternoon to give you a quick overview of the supplementary estimates (A) 2018-19.
The supplementary estimates (A) is the first of two supplementary exercises planned for this fiscal year. They present the department's revised spending plans, which were either not sufficiently developed in time for inclusion in the main estimates, or have subsequently been refined.
The items presented today include all Treasury Board approvals since the main estimates and exclude budget 2018 items. As with all supply bills, they are referred to committee where the contents are studied before voting actually takes place.
As the minister said, we're seeking Parliament's approval of $980 million, most of which will be allocated to our capital vote 5a.
More specifically, we are seeking $827.3 million for three icebreakers, $57.8 million for our offshore oceanographic science vessel, $33.8 million to advance reconciliation and indigenous issues, and $21.5 million to implement the amended Fisheries Act.
The remaining 14 items are other initiatives, some technical reinvestments and transfers to and from other departments. These items can be found on pages 2-37 and 2-38 in the explanation of requirements section.
It's on pages 2-82 and 2-83 of the French version.
Budget 2018 initially identified $217 million for five DFO-led measures in fiscal year 2018-19. To date, approximately $120 million in authorities has been granted to the department, including $87.2 million for renewing Canada's network of small craft harbours this fiscal year.
Thank you for allowing me the time to present today.
We would be pleased to answer all your questions.
Thank you, Minister, that information will be well received by the industry.
My second question goes to the growing awareness within the industry that the oceans can no longer be used as a dumping ground. There are consequences to the industry, to the very stocks that the fishermen depend on.
One is the issue of plastics within the oceans. The other is the area of illegal fishing and ghost fishing. Given your leadership role, as Canada is the G7 leader in this area, how do you look to bring more awareness on these two critical issues and how can we begin to address them? For some time, it was an issue that was swept under the rug, but it is one that we're seeing every day. In fact, there's new awareness today of the death of a lot of seaborne mammals because of plastics, and this is an issue that has to be dealt with.
How do you view your position, your ministry, in reacting to those two significant global issues that will have a very real impact on coastal communities in Canada?
On the issue of plastics in the oceans, there are plastics that come from terrestrial sources but in the context of fisheries and oceans, it's particularly ghost gear. The ghost gear that's floating in the oceans is by weight almost half of the plastics that are entering the oceans these days.
That and the issue of unregulated fishing are both really important and go to the heart of the sustainability of the fishery. In order to manage a fishery in a thoughtful way on an international basis, you need to know how many fish are being taken. With illegal fishing, it becomes very difficult to do that.
Similarly, if there are large numbers of marine mammals and fish that are being killed by ghost gear and/or other plastics, it again becomes very difficult to manage the sustainability of the fishery.
We have made that a major push in our G7 presidency at the level of leaders. and I led the conversations with G7 ministers in Halifax.
It is also a key focus of the The Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, which Kenya and Canada are co-hosting next week. I'm leaving on Friday for that conference.
It's definitely something that we're working on with our international partners. We are also working to ensure that from a domestic perspective we are walking the walk.
And thank you, Minister, for being here, and all of your staff.
I'm glad you mentioned a couple of things in your opening comments, because I'm going to refer to your address on September 20 to the G7 ministerial meeting.
In those comments, you said that:
When it comes to man-made pollution in the world’s oceans, Canada is also taking action. As a federal government, we are moving towards making our operations low-carbon, resilient and green. As a country, we are moving toward zero plastic waste by keeping plastic out of oceans and landfills.
One thing you don't mention in this, regarding keeping our oceans clean, is sewage dumps and outflows. Those have been identified as significant issues on the west coast and the east coast as well. I can quote some numbers out of the St. Lawrence River over the last few years, but I think you're probably well aware of those. Why is that not mentioned in any statement or plan?
It's a very good question.
Let me start by saying that the regulations with respect to waste water treatment in Canada are the purview of the Minister of the Environment, rather than the Minister of Fisheries. I would say that it is an important issue, it is one that in Canada we do need to address.
As you will be aware, there is a schedule for all of the major waste-water treatment facilities that are not currently in compliance with doing secondary treatment, to be in compliance by either 2020 or 2030.
We have allocated significant green infrastructure funding to accelerating that process. There is a new waste-water treatment plant being built in my riding, in North Vancouver. There is a new waste-water treatment plant being built in Victoria, which presently has no waste-water treatment, which is appalling. There are a number of similar facilities being constructed across this country.
It's a very important issue and it's one that we definitely need to address.
Let me talk a little about the southern resident killer whale, and then I'll ask the parliamentary secretary to talk about the right whale.
As you know, in Canada we have the Species at Risk Act, and both of these species are endangered. There is an imminent threat. There was a finding of an imminent threat to the southern resident killer whale, and that means that there is a requirement for the government to act to address the biological needs.
Of course, in looking at how to best do that, we think through various pathways to get there and certainly look at options that will have the least economic impact. The consultations that go on with fishing communities, both recreational and commercial, and with the transportation industry, in terms of shipping, are all very important.
I've had many conversations with both, including a chamber of commerce roundtable with many of the west coast of Vancouver Island communities that are actually involved in this fishery. We are certainly looking to incorporate their thoughts and concerns into how we go forward, but the bottom line is that we need to act to address the critical issues facing these whales. We will do so and have been doing so in a manner as sensitive as possible from an economic perspective.
Thank you, Minister, for being here.
As you know, the Atlantic salmon is in trouble. It has been declining, up and down, for the last number of years. This is certainly attributable to many factors, some that we can take action on and some that we're not even sure about, for instance, why the returns are very low. There are other factors such as predators, whether it be the striped bass, the grey seal or others. There are other actions we can take, such as repairing the river banks and creating cold pools so that it has habitat, especially during these last few summers, some of the hottest in history. In the short term, we can certainly take some of those actions.
With 2019 being the International Year of the Salmon, I'm wondering if there is a new initiative—or any initiative—that we could put in place to protect this salmon. It's a very economic industry, especially with the recreational for my area, the Miramichi, but also other rivers are starting to see lower numbers. Being the International Year of the Salmon, is there anything that the department has planned to ensure we are doing all we can to help the salmon survive and expand?
That problem has been identified as being a $50-million-per-year maintenance problem for communities in one watershed alone. Again, I would pressure you for more impact on that.
Minister, I want to challenge you a little bit on the statement you made that pinnipeds don't seem to be an issue in the competition with southern resident killer whales. I was just provided a document last night quoting some numbers. Comparing harbour seals in 1972 versus what they are now, they've gone from 210,000 to approximately 355,000. The California sea lions grew from a number of fewer than 6,000 to 47,000. Steller's sea lions increased from 74,000 to 78,000. In the Salish Sea, the harbour seal population grew from approximately 8,600 in 1975 to over 77,800.
How can you believe, or have you been misled with the information you've been provided, that pinnipeds are not serious competition for prey for the southern resident killer whale?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you very much, Ken.
The best dilbit studies done by the Government of Canada, in terms of honesty and replicating of natural conditions, are done by Fisheries and Oceans in the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Halifax. The ones least likely to be accurate, because they were done in tanks of water in Alberta, were done by Natural Resources Canada. There's a preponderance of effort to focus only on the ones that say dilbit floats, and can be cleaned up, based on studies in tanks of water in Alberta.
As the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, I want to draw to your attention to the really good studies, which have been published and peer-reviewed, led by chief investigator Thomas King. They suggest that you are very unlikely to be able to clean up dilbit; that the oil balls will sink, and you'll have to heat them somehow, underwater, to get them up and out of the ecosystem. At this point, can you honestly tell us we have a clue about how to clean up dilbit, based on studies in your department?
I think I just have time for two quick questions on one of my favourite topics, salmon aquaculture, and specifically on closed containment technology. West coast wild salmon are under threat from disease and pollutants, as you know, and from sea lice originating from open-net cage salmon farms.
Many say that the future of salmon aquaculture is closed containment. The technology exists. It is economically feasible and the prospect of jobs and economic opportunities is immense.
Canada is well positioned to become a world leader in closed containment, but we need to act now. Globally, money is being invested in land-based salmon farming. Florida, for instance, as you know, is building a 90,000-tonne facility, which is the size of our west cost tonnage annually. There's no time for delay. Canada must invest in a safe, sustainable industry that protects wild salmon and employment and develops new technologies, jobs and export opportunities.
I want to give you an opportunity to tell the committee what your position is on removing these farms from the wild salmon migration route and transitioning this industry to safe, land-based technology.
Yes, thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all of the officials for being here.
I want to ask my first question regarding small craft harbours. I am from southwestern Nova Scotia and represent an area where the fishery, especially the lobster fishery, is absolutely critical to our local economy.
We know that the fishery has done extremely well over the last number of years and, as a result of that, there has been a huge issue regarding capacity at our wharves and small craft harbours in southwestern Nova Scotia, like many other places across Atlantic Canada, because the boats are getting bigger, and they're running out of room.
There are also issues at small craft harbours regarding the repair of some of the small craft harbours that haven't had investment for many years. There is also an issue with dredging, and they all come out of the same budget for small craft harbours. A lot of the harbour authorities I represent and I've heard from across Atlantic Canada are saying that the dredging work that happens is just good enough to get you through the year and that there is not enough long-term planning with regard to dredging work so that you don't have to come back over and over and keep doing that same work.
I know you're well aware of this, and I was pleased that in the last budget there was $250 million in B-base funding for increasing some of those capital projects for small craft harbours, but I don't think it's enough to get us there for the long-term planning, and there are a lot of wharves in my area that critically need work. In many ways it's supporting the local economy to ensure that they have what they need, not only to be safe, but to have what they need to keep the economies going in our smaller communities.
I wonder if you can comment on that as far as the importance of these investments in small craft harbours for the long term.
We really appreciate it because there is a little bit of a challenge in terms of the nomenclature. People do confuse what marine protected areas are. We actually have various levels of protection. When you hear “marine protected area”, that typically refers to an Oceans Act MPA, which is actually fairly closed to human activity.
We have so many levels of protection. I'll pick a Nova Scotian example, because I'm very lucky to be from there. We're looking at an area on the eastern shore. It's an inshore area for protection, but the biodiversity we're trying to protect in that particular area is not impacted by the lobster fishery. We've communicated that. We expect that to go forward. As well, there's some harvesting of seaweed.
We can do a better job, as we go forward, to make sure we're clear and we communicate what we're trying to achieve. I do make the joke occasionally that it's not very often that people say to DFO, “Please slow down.” In the case of marine protected areas, when I started my job, Canada was at about 1% of marine protection. The mandate was 5% protection by the end of 2017. We did go quite quickly. In the very good work that went out—lots of maps—there are stakeholders who have said, “Hold on, what do you mean?” We are working with provinces and other stakeholders to make sure we explain it and have an opportunity for folks to make sure that they have their say and that they have a clear line of sight on the protections that we're trying to get to—what's in, what's out and how it actually will roll out.
I know you've been more than co-operative on many occasions here before committee, so again, thank you.
Before we go into committee business, I will call for the votes under supplementary estimates (A).
DEPARTMENT OF FISHERIES AND OCEANS
Vote 1a—Operating expenditures..........$36,799,816
(Vote 1a agreed to on division)
Vote 5a—Capital expenditures..........$883,499,828
(Vote 5a agreed to on division)
Vote 10a—Grants and contributions..........$57,947,049
(Vote 10a agreed to on division)
The Chair: Shall I report supplementary estimates (A) 2018-19 to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
An hon. member: On division.
The Chair: Thank you.
We'll now suspend for a moment while we go into committee business.