Good afternoon, everyone.
Welcome to our regular committee meeting, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), main estimates 2019-20, votes 1, 5, 10, 15 and 20 under Department of Fisheries and Oceans, referred to the committee on Thursday, April 11.
I'd like to start off by welcoming the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson for making himself available today. I believe the minister's here for an hour, and then the officials will stay for the second hour to partake in questioning.
I'd like to welcome the officials: Timothy Sargent, deputy minister; Jeffery Hutchinson, commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard; Philippe Morel, assistant deputy minister, aquatic ecosystems sector; Jen O'Donoughue, assistant deputy minister and chief financial officer; Andy Smith, deputy commissioner, strategy and shipbuilding; Adam Burns, director general, fisheries resource management; and Mark Waddell, director general, fisheries and licence policy.
Minister, we'll give the floor to you to start off with, for your opening remarks. I believe you're going to be handing off the opening remarks to one of the officials.
When you're ready, the floor is yours.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you very much for the invitation to be here today. I will give some opening remarks, and then I think Jen will just supplement those a little bit.
As you noted, I'm accompanied by a number of members of our senior management team.
I'll give the committee a brief financial overview of the 2019-20 main estimates for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard before speaking about some of the accomplishments of my department.
Through the 2019-20 main estimates, the department is seeking $2.994 billion, which represents a $548.4-million increase when compared to the 2018-19 main estimates.
The increased spending levels represent new funding for the procurement and conversion of three icebreakers for the Coast Guard, including the newest member of the fleet, the CCGS Captain Molly Kool. The main estimates also include $155 million that is directed to the construction and engineering of a Coast Guard offshore oceanographic science vessel, as well as to the purchase of long lead items, which need to be ordered well in advance of the start of construction, which is targeted for the end of 2020.
The main estimates also include a significant amount of funding for the small craft harbours program to deliver on its regular work, which is $92 million annual A-base funding. In addition, they include $150 million to deliver on the $250-million budget 2018 funding for small craft harbours. This is important because, in 2018, the commercial fishing industry had landings valued at over $5.5 billion. Today, this sector employs more than 77,000 workers from coast to coast to coast in harvesting, aquaculture and processing jobs. Furthermore, fish and seafood continue to be among the largest single food commodities exported by Canada, valued at almost $7 billion annually.
The top three items that comprise our main estimates—commercial icebreakers, small craft harbours and the offshore oceanographic science vessel—each represent 5% of the total 2019-20 estimates, or 15% as a whole. Furthermore, on the overall change of $548.4 million between 2018-19 and 2019-20, these three initiatives correspond to $435.5 million or approximately 80% of the overall increase that the department is experiencing.
Following my remarks, my officials will be able to share more specifics on how this funding will be used over the coming months.
Mr. Chair, it has been 10 months since my appointment as Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
I am very proud to be part of a government that has been making decisions and real investments to fight climate change and protect our environment. From coast to coast to coast, whether it is increasing the capacity of our Coast Guard or investing in small craft harbours, the decisions that are made are ensuring that we are protecting our oceans for generations to come and for our communities that depend on them.
The Canadian Coast Guard owns and operates more than 120 vessels of various sizes, strategically deployed on all coasts and major inland waterways of the country. In the past 18 months, six new small ships have joined the fleet, including search and rescue lifeboats and channel surveying vessels. We have announced the arrival of two more search and rescue lifeboats, the CCGS McIntyre Bay and the CCGS Pachena Bay, to join the west coast fleet. The first large ship under the national shipbuilding strategy, a specialized offshore fisheries science vessel named after Sir John Franklin, is expected to be delivered in June.
We are strengthening the Coast Guard's authorities to support a more proactive, rapid and effective response to ship-source and mystery-source pollution incidents. The Coast Guard responds regularly to pollution incidents, mostly small in scale. However, it also proactively intervenes when required to mitigate potential spills. This past fall, the Coast Guard and its partners successfully completed the bulk oil removal of 208.7 cubic metres from the wreck of the Manolis L near Change Islands, in Notre Dame Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador.
The government is making investments to ensure that the women and men of the Coast Guard have the tools they need to protect our marine environment and ensure the safety of mariners.
Small craft harbours provide critical support to the commercial fishing industry, which in 2017 had landings of over $3.4 billion. As part of budget 2018, we invested $250 million, over two years, to renew our network of small craft harbours and to work with municipalities to enhance local communities and economies and foster job creation. This is in addition to the $92 million that will be invested in 2019-20 for repairs, maintenance, construction and dredging at core commercial fishing harbours across this country.
Over the past year, Canada has been active and engaged internationally. One highlight was the G7 summit, where oceans and fisheries were featured as key issues. In addition, we sponsored the first-ever oceans conference at the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, which was held in Nairobi, where we co-sponsored with Kenya and Japan. We also established the new DFO and Coast Guard region in the Arctic and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Nunavut and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association to work together to explore the potential protection of areas in the High Arctic Basin, while supporting the development of a conservation economy in the region. We also established an inshore rescue boat station in Rankin Inlet.
The government has committed to providing meaningful and effective protection to Canada's land and ocean spaces. To that end, we established an advisory panel on marine-protected area standards to consult with Canadians and provide guidance to the government on our approach to marine conservation.
During the nature champions summit in Montreal last month, I announced a set of strong, clear standards for Canada's marine conservation networks, which will include two distinct forms of protection: marine-protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, such marine refuges.
We're well on our way to meeting the international 10% marine conservation target in 2020, as a result of real protection measures that will have biodiversity benefits for generations to come.
Other progress includes partnering with indigenous peoples to respond to marine emergencies, and in the last year we provided marine safety training to 25 members from 17 first nations in British Columbia.
We are also continuing to take action to protect Canada's endangered whales, including the southern resident killer whales on the west coast, right whales on the east coast and belugas in the St. Lawrence.
We are working to leverage new research to refine and improve our approaches to managing fisheries in this country, with the resolve to provide needed protections, while supporting indigenous groups, fish harvesters, shippers and other stakeholders.
One of my most important priorities as minister is restoring important fish stocks across Canada, including Canada's wild salmon populations. As you know, our government last year announced an additional $107 million to support the implementation of the fish stocks provisions that are proposed in Bill . To contribute to better managed fisheries, these resources will increase scientific capacity to do stock assessments, including salmon stock assessments.
We also announced the B.C. salmon restoration and innovation fund and the Quebec fisheries fund, both modelled on the successful Atlantic fisheries fund, to support projects focused on supporting stock restoration and resilience through infrastructure investments, promoting science partnerships and innovation and technology adoption.
These are among many activities that will support our wild salmon policy implementation plan and management of aquaculture over the next five years.
Canada's prosperity depends on making sure the benefits of a growing economy are felt by more and more people, with good, well-paying jobs for Canada's middle class. The government also firmly believes that economic prosperity and the long-term health of our environment can and must go hand in hand. We are continuing to make smart investments that are positioning Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard to deliver on these priorities for the benefit of all Canadians.
Now I will turn it over to Jen to add a couple of extra comments.
Thank you, Minister Wilkinson.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and committee members.
My name is Jen O'Donoughue, and I'm the chief financial officer of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
We're pleased to be here today to provide an overview of the 2019-20 main estimates.
I prepared brief remarks allowing time for any questions the committee may have.
We are in the second year of the new estimates reform process and its purpose is to improve the alignment between the federal budget and estimates. The President of the Treasury Board tabled interim estimates back on January 28 to ensure departments were able to start the fiscal year.
The key change for estimates reform remains the timing of main estimates, which now follow budgets. The main estimates were tabled on April 11. As with all supply bills, they were referred to committee where the contents are studied before voting takes place, thus our presence here today.
Contrary to last year, itemized budget implementation votes are now included in the departmental vote hierarchies rather than in one single consolidated vote within the Treasury Board Secretariat. Specifically for DFO, items are included under votes 15 and 20. Similar to last year, budget 2019 items will only be made available to the regular expenditure vote of the department once they have gone through the scrutiny and due diligence of the Treasury Board Secretariat and are approved by Treasury Board ministers.
The department's 2019-20 main estimates totalled $2.994 billion, including statutory authorities. This represents an increase of $548 million when compared to the 2018-19 main estimates. As indicated by the minister, the biggest increase, $151 million, is related to the procurement of icebreakers for the Canadian Coast Guard. Three icebreakers were purchased in August 2018 and due to timing this funding was not included in the 2018-19 main estimates. Funding was sought in-year via the 2018-19 supplementary estimates (A).
The next large increase in funding is for the renewal of Canada's network of small craft harbours. Budget 2018 announced $250 million, of which $150 million is included in these main estimates. Due to timing, as well, year one funding was not included in our 2018-19 main estimates.
We also have a $135-million increase in funding for the ongoing engineering work related to the Canadian Coast Guard's offshore oceanographic science vessel.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here this afternoon to present our 2019-20 main estimates.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and I'll be sharing my time with Mr. Morrissey.
Minister, thank you so much for being here, and to your officials, as well, for joining us today. It's always a pleasure to have you at our committee.
I'd like to start by touching on one aspect that you mentioned in your presentation regarding small craft harbours. You're absolutely right to mention the impact that seafood exports, in particular, have on coastal communities in Atlantic Canada, where I'm from, and most particularly, the lobster landings that happen that happen in southwestern Nova Scotia, for example. Those are critical to the local economy. They're basically the backbone of the entire region's economic growth.
We know that climate change is happening, that there are severe effects that can be seen at the wharves when you've got more intense storms. We know that it means that more dredging has to happen. We know, as well, that the growth of the lobster industry is fuelling more people wanting to get into the industry and also having larger vessels, which is creating congestion at many of our small craft harbours. Catches are up, the price is high because of the trade deals that are now in effect, but there are some safety issues. Small craft harbours have to be a very important part of your department's outlook for the future.
I know investments have been made. Our committee made a recommendation that there needs to be a significant increase in the A-base portion of the funding so that planning can happen by your department.
I wonder if you can comment on the importance of small craft harbours, the investments we've made and what you see for the future?
Yes. Some are delayed. You lose credibility with your fishers.
I want to go on because I'm going to share my time with Mr. Finnigan.
This is about the Coast Guard. You made reference to coordinating and the services that are available—to my colleague, Mr. Fraser—when the lobster season opens in southwest Nova Scotia.
I've been working for some time with fishermen in P.E.I. about getting better supports coordinated with the Coast Guard and DND search and rescue. We keep getting push-back.
In the spring of the year, in the Gulf region, which affects P.E.I, Îles-de-la-Madeleine and up to northern New Brunswick, the water temperature is around zero, versus the opening of the lobster season in southwest Nova in November when the water temperature is probably around 10 Celsius or so. You all know the impact of the water.
There appear to be two standards when it comes to providing rescue service capability for opening up of lobster seasons. It's something I would like to see the Coast Guard coordinate more with DND. I'm not saying reduce the services. The services in that area should be as adequate and strong as they are in southwest Nova. In my opinion they're not.
Could you provide to the committee, between DND and search and rescue, what services and asset capability is available at the opening of that November lobster fishery?
Regarding the seals, I find your response absolutely appalling. The data are really clear. I'm looking at an article about research one of your staff, Dr. Olesiuk, did on the Puntledge River, in 2010. Three dozen seals had killed 10,000 adult chum salmon in the fall spawning run. There was a study in Scotland....
You talk about indigenous knowledge. The Stó:lo Tribal Council has repeatedly asked for permits, so that fishermen can legally shoot seals. If you cared about indigenous knowledge, you would approve that.
Also, the article states, “In Scotland, a study found that taking a single seal out of the Moriston River increased the sports salmon catch by 17 per cent.”
Mr. Sargent, you will never get certainty in the natural world. Your department has been conducting research for 100 years, yet you're all afraid to use the research to actually do something about it. I would urge you to take the advice of this committee, which has recommended a seal harvest over and over again, unanimously. Yet, you continue not to do it. I find that appalling.
Mr. Morel and Mr. Burns, I want to talk to you about the Miramichi. I've fished it a few times. As you know, the smallmouth bass issue is critical. The Miramichi Salmon Association has come up with a plan to use rotenone to eliminate the smallmouth bass in the Miramichi. This is one of the least toxic fish toxicants you could ever have. In fact, aboriginal people in South America used it to collect food, yet you continue to refuse to allow the elimination of smallmouth bass from that particular lake.
If smallmouth bass get into the Miramichi—they're a non-native predator—that's the end of that multi-million dollar salmon fishery. How could you be so obtuse?