Thank you, sir. We appreciate it very much. It is good to see you back.
Now, we go to the formal proceedings of the day. As you know, we normally only take this time to study supplementary estimates (C). However, this year, thanks to a law change back in June 2017, we are looking at two things, both the supplementary estimates (C) and the interim estimates. This interim estimates business is a whole new universe for us.
However, from a technical standpoint, yesterday, the announced that Thursday, March 22, will be the final allotted day of the current period. Technically, that means that the estimates have been deemed to have been reported back to the House. That's already been done, so the votes won't be necessary. However, since he's here, why not hear from the person himself?
Since you're here, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee is studying the subject matter of supplementary estimates (C) 2017-18, votes 1c, 5c, and 10c, under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Coast Guard, as well as the subject matter of interim estimates 2018-19, votes 1, 5, and 10 under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well.
We will begin with our minister, Dominic LeBlanc. It's good to see you again, sir. Thank you for appearing before us today for this hour. You have up to 10 minutes.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. The pleasure is truly mine. I want to assure you of that.
I also want to join you, Chair, in saying how glad I am, Todd, to see you back in good health. I said to Todd that it's a hell of a way to lose weight. I thought your comments in the House of Commons yesterday, Todd, were very moving. It reminds us that we shouldn't wait for a difficult circumstance like that to befall a colleague and a friend to say and think those things. It's a chance for me to say publicly that I'm glad you're back and that you're healthy.
Mr. Chair, thank you for the invitation to, as you said, in very technical complicated terms, appear here on our departmental estimates.
As you can see, I am accompanied by the following members of DFO's senior management team and the Canadian Coast Guard: the deputy minister, Catherine Blewett, the commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, Jeffery Hutchinson, and the interim chief financial officer, Pablo Sobrino.
It's a pleasure to be here before your committee.
Allow me to take a quick moment to thank each and every one of you—the staff who work for our colleagues, members of Parliament, and also the committee staff—for what I think was terrific work done collectively on Bill on marine protection. I would note that a number of amendments in the end were incorporated in the legislation. I think it strengthened the bill, and I thank you for that important work.
I also want to thank you again, Mr. Chair, for the work you did in reviewing the 2012 changes to the Fisheries Act. Obviously, at the department we work closely with members of the committee, with provinces and territories, indigenous groups, and with industry stakeholders across the country to ensure that the concerns and points of view that were expressed were taken into account as we drafted our amendments to the Fisheries Act. Many of our proposed changes or amendments in Bill are obviously inspired by the study, Mr. Chair, that your committee did and the recommendations that accompanied it. Again—and I've said it publicly in the House—I hope and believe that the bill will be referred to the committee in the near future. I look forward, as do my colleagues in the department, to working with all of you if you have suggestions on how we can strengthen the legislation. We're obviously interested in that conversation, and I look forward to those exchanges as well.
Mr. Chair, today we're here to discuss our departmental spending plans. I will provide you and your colleagues with a brief financial overview of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard's 2017-18 supplementary estimates (C) and 2018-19 interim estimates before speaking to a few recent accomplishments of the department.
The supplementary estimates (C) provide the resources for the department to launch, for example, the fisheries and aquaculture clean technology adoption program. You'll remember that this was part of budget 2017, in which there was an element for aquaculture and for the department to address the last ice area within Canadian Arctic waters.
In terms of our 2018-19 interim estimates, our initial ask to start the fiscal year amounts to $577.4 million, which represents three-twelfths of our approved reference levels.
I am pleased to say that our 2018-19 funding includes the following: $263.5 million in new funding for the oceans protection plan; new funding over a quarter of a billion dollars for the department to continue carrying out its mandate; $58 million in new funding for the Atlantic Fisheries Fund for this fiscal year; and $41.5 million for the renewal and expansion of indigenous fisheries programs and initiatives.
There's no question that the demands on our oceans and marine resources are higher than ever before. Our government's historic investment of $1.5 billion in the oceans protection plan will make our coasts cleaner, safer, and better protected. In collaboration with other departments and indigenous and coastal communities, we're well on our way to developing a safer marine transportation system that strengthens Canada's economy while preserving and restoring marine ecosystems.
Through the oceans protection plan and in all of our work, our government recognizes the importance of indigenous peoples in protecting our coast, addressing climate change, and the designation of new marine protected areas.
I am very pleased to say that, by the end of 2017, Canada had surpassed its domestic goal under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to protect 5% of marine and coastal areas. In fact, we have protected 7.75% of marine and coastal areas.
This achievement was made possible thanks to sound science and to sincere engagement with Canadians, indigenous groups, industry leaders, and environmental organizations that care passionately about Canada's oceans.
Our nation's prosperity depends on making sure that the benefits of a growing economy are felt by more and more people, with good, well-paying jobs for middle-class Canadians.
This is especially important to the more than 76,000 Canadians working in commercial fishing, aquaculture, and processing jobs, many in coastal and indigenous communities. I don't have to tell the people around this table, who in many cases—perhaps with the exception of Mr. Miller—represent communities along Canada's coast and remote communities.
Often the fishery and related industries are in fact the only or the most significant source of economic activity in these communities. That's why our government is focused, for example, on the Atlantic fisheries fund, which I announced in 2017. It's designed to encourage new and innovative ways to harvest, process, and deliver high-quality, sustainably sourced fish and seafood.
Other provinces, notably the Province of Quebec, have reached out to me about the possibility of negotiating a similar fund for their fishing industries. Obviously, it will be a pleasure for me to work with Minister Lessard and our colleagues from Quebec on that initiative. We remain open to looking at every possible opportunity on all of Canada's coasts that would in fact improve economic opportunities for Canadians.
I will stop here, Mr. Chair.
In your opening remarks, you said that my colleague, the , will be tabling the Main Estimates in April to ensure better alignment with Budget 2018.
This important change in timing is a key pillar of his estimates reform, which will ensure that we, as parliamentarians, are well-positioned to study documents that will be substantially more meaningful, relevant, and pertinent.
It would be a great pleasure to come back to talk to you about the Main Estimates at that time, if you wish.
Mr. Chair, with that, I wanted to leave some time for questions. I assume all of your questions will be very specific, technical questions related to supplementary estimates (C), and if that's the case, I said to Pablo that I would be happy to ask him or the deputy minister or the commissioner to answer. I will respond to the compliments that members will have with respect to my work as minister or the government's overall work, and those very technical questions on spending I could perhaps leave to the CFO or others.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Bobby, for the question.
In fact, the increase in funding for the fiscal year starting in a couple of weeks and next year, I think, was largely a result of the work of parliamentarians on all sides who spoke publicly and consistently about the backlog in deferred maintenance and the long list of projects, important in small communities, that weren't able to be funded. I just want to publicly thank colleagues who have been supportive of trying to get increased investments in this program.
I do share your concern, Bobby, around the importance of not lapsing the funding. If we ask the for that significant investment, and then at the end of the financial year that starts in a couple of weeks, we have lapsed $30 million or $40 million, or whatever the amount, short of what we wanted to spend on the appropriate projects, it will be hard to make the argument in future years that.... Even this amount of money will not clear the entire backlog of work. I think it's a very significant start.
I have worked with the deputy minister and with regional directors general to identify quickly.... That work is done. The deputy minister and I had a long conversation about this when we were in western Canada last week. I am confident that this money will be invested in the best projects across the country, but I'm going to be keeping a very close eye, as will the deputy, on how quickly we're going to tender projects in the coming weeks, and ensuring that those projects are on track to be completed in a timetable where that money can be invested in the financial years that the Department of Finance and gave the money to us. There won't be any money that lapses, and we will obviously be happy to work with all parliamentarians and receive their suggestions as to the priorities in their area, and work with local communities and harbour authorities to identify those projects.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and welcome to the Minister and departmental officials for being with us this morning.
The supplementary estimates (C) 2017-18 request $488,563 in new funding for the fisheries and aquaculture clean technology adoption program, which provides funding to assist Canada's fisheries and aquaculture industries to improve their environmental performance.
As the minister knows, the best way to improve the environmental performance of fish farms is to get them out of the water and onto land. The Namgis First Nation is going to court this week, seeking a judicial review of Fisheries and Oceans Canada policy that doesn't mandate testing for piscine orthoreovirus before the scheduled transfer of Atlantic smolts to Marine Harvest's open net salmon farm in the Namgis territory, and an injunction preventing the minister from issuing a licence permitting the transfer of the smolts.
Chief Don Svanvik states:
||We have made every attempt to engage Canada in good faith on their PRV policy and the transfer of Atlantic salmon into our territory, but it refused to consult with us. Namgis has no other option to protect wild salmon, our title and rights and ultimately who we are as people but to ask the Court to intervene to prevent the serious, irreversible harm being visited upon us by Canada and Marine Harvest.
Minister, will any of the allocated money be used to help transition farms out of first nation territories and onto land?
Moreover, when it comes to RAS, the train is leaving the station, and B.C. is not on it, and Canada is not on it. We have no strategy. Land-based closed containment aquaculture represents an opportunity for Canada, and B.C. in particular, to play a leading role in an emerging market. However, the opportunity is highly time sensitive.
Several commercial scale Atlantic salmon land-based closed containment projects are already under way. The U.S. has six facilities in development, which will produce more than 200,000 tonnes. Other countries are following its lead: Norway, Scotland, Denmark, Poland, South Africa, Switzerland, China, and France. Here in Canada we have three facilities: Kuterra, Canaqua, and Sustainable Blue. Between the three facilities, they're producing almost 1,000 tonnes. The U.S. plans to produce 20 times that.
B.C. is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the trend toward safe closed containment. The growth path for this industry could be greatly accelerated if appropriate incentives were put in place and regulations.
I'll leave it at that, and ask for your comments, Minister.
I met with them on a visit to British Columbia last year. I can get you the exact date. We've had ongoing discussions with the Namgis.
With respect to the broader issue around aquaculture, Fin, you and I have talked about this. Our parliamentary secretary and other colleagues from British Columbia have spoken to me about it a number of times as well. I know that Terry has visited the Kuterra facility, and has worked with our department in his capacity as a parliamentary secretary to identify potential opportunities for some of that funding around innovation and testing, and whether that technology for closed containment land-based aquaculture can in fact be used much more broadly, from an economic and environmental sustainability perspective.
As to your specific question about whether the fisheries and aquaculture clean technology adoption program might be a source of funding, I would certainly be open to an application to that fund that would advance that discussion. I don't disagree at all, Fin, with your analysis of the potential of land-based aquaculture and the importance of British Columbia not ending up behind the parade of other jurisdictions that in fact have gone further.
That's a modest amount of money. That fund is not a huge amount of money. My colleague, the , may have potentially other funding sources. I've had a conversation with him about that, and I know that our parliamentary secretary has as well.
Perhaps the deputy has a specific thing she wants to add.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, for being here today.
I have three quick questions.
The first is about the $250 million for small craft harbours. How will it be determined where that money is allocated?
That's one. I'm going to go through all three. It might be easier that way.
Secondly, with regard to abandoned vessels—and Mr. Hutchinson maybe can answer this for me—I know that we've had the program on the west coast for the smaller boats. I'm interested particularly in larger vessels and their removal. As you are aware, we have a few on the east coast. Of course, it's great that we're doing some work with the Manolis L and the Kathryn Spirit, but there are others. I'd like to know what the process is for removal of those vessels.
Thirdly, one of the things I hear a lot about now is enforcement, and the cuts that have been made to DFO previously with regard to enforcement and how these are affecting the local fishery. I'm just wondering if there's any movement to increase the number of enforcement officers on the ground.
Hon. Dominic LeBlanc: On the water.
Mrs. Bernadette Jordan: Exactly.
When you have a long coastline that needs to be protected by fishery officers, and you have one boat that takes in from Shelburne to Yarmouth, it's pretty hard to get to a problem.
If someone could address those three concerns, I would appreciate it. Thank you.
Thank you, Bernadette. I'll take a crack at the first and third questions, and ask the commissioner to respond on the removal of larger vessels.
On the $250 million, I want to thank you publicly for your help in securing that funding, Bernadette, with respect to small craft harbours. As you know, the department has a normal, existing program. It's a series of points allocated, and the normal A-base program of small craft harbours puts out about $100 million a year. That's woefully inadequate compared to the need.
That program will continue to operate with the priorities that are established—often in multi-year capital plans, and so on. Some of this funding will go to some divestiture projects. I think the budget mentioned four specific projects; they are not all divestiture projects, but were used in the budget as examples in different parts of the country of specific projects that would receive funding.
There's no doubt that some provinces and communities have asked us about divestiture, such that we invest what we need to, to get their wharves or their particular harbours up to a standard where a province or a municipality could take them over. To be honest, I don't think we have an exact proportion yet of what money will be used for divestiture. Obviously, we will use a significant portion of this money to complement the urgent requirement that had fallen off the table from the existing program. In your constituency it's some of the most lucrative and economically important fishing grounds in the whole country.
With you, I visited a number of harbours in your riding that are perfect examples of deferred maintenance. If you think of the economic impact of these harbours and the jobs they facilitate and the importance to the economy of these coastal communities, my hope is that over the next two years we can catch up on a great number of these projects that had been deferred.
We'd be happy to work with your office and others to get your priorities, and I say this as well to other colleagues who have small craft harbours in their ridings. We are wide open to receiving your views on priorities and we'll work with you to ensure that this new funding can meet some of those objectives.
On enforcement, you're absolutely right. One of the challenges I heard from Newfoundland to Bella Bella, British Columbia, was the importance of having more fishery officers, conservation and protection officers, habitat protection officers, but particularly fishery officers, C and P officers, on the wharves, on the water. I visited small detachments where there used to be five or six people and now they're down to three, but it takes two to patrol safely. You can imagine that with three in a particular detachment, you've massively reduced their ability to enforce the Fisheries Act. Their presence is a deterrent to those who perhaps might not be inclined to follow the law. It's also a safety aspect in many communities. These people are first responders.
In Bella Bella last week I met two fishery officers who are in an isolated detachment there. They are, in many cases, the only federal presence along that part of the coast. I chatted with them about some of the challenges in recruiting and maintaining their staffing levels. We will be increasing by at least 70, or I hope more, permanent positions of fishery officers across the country. Help is on the way for those working in detachments now. The money that we got—almost $300 million—with the new fisheries act that we're proposing, will be a good first start, but I'll continue to try to rebuild that capacity.
Before we run out of time, I'll let the commissioner respond as well. We know the importance of the Farley Mowat. That left. You and I saw that together, Bernadette.
I'd be very happy to, Minister.
As people around this table know, Bill has now reached third reading stage. That bill forms part of a larger plan that fundamentally changes the situation around vessels of concern, primarily by creating liability for abandonment of vessels, which has never existed in the past, but also by squarely positioning that legislation in a risk-based approach. That's the segue to the answer to your question, Ms. Jordan.
Our approach to those larger vessels is risk-based. You've already noted that we're taking action on some of the larger vessels that pose a more immediate risk, like the Kathryn Spirit and the Manolis L. We expect, as announced in January, a long-term plan for the Manolis L will be out this year. Kathryn Spirit is already being dismantled, or “broken” as we say.
As for the other large vessels, we have ongoing technical assessments scheduled for many of them. For Corfu Island, for example, the technical assessment is ongoing. The order in which those will happen are risk-based. For example, we'll be undertaking technical assessments of the Matterhorn and the Petrel this year. We have Cormorant down for next year.
As we're able to get to vessels, we get to them, and that generally then leads to a funding decision. Where we are dealing with the situation with a smaller amount, say, in the hundreds of thousands, we'll generally take that out of our environmental response program. Where you're into the territory of, say, a Kathryn Spirit, which is over $10 million, almost in the tens of millions of dollars, then a larger funding decision is required because we don't have the program dollars.
There are two key questions I want to get to, and if there's time remaining, if we can keep our responses reasonable, I'd like to pass the remaining time to Mr. Miller.
Minister, thank you for being here. I have a question regarding the glaring absence of any funding plans in the estimates for preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species, or AIS, particularly in my home province of British Columbia. The Okanagan Basin Water Board in Kelowna found that the introduction of invasive mussels into the Okanagan region alone would cost an estimated $43 million annually in mitigation and infrastructure maintenance. DFO's own evaluation of its fisheries protection program states that “the economic and environmental damage that some AIS have caused and can cause far outweighs the cost of prevention”.
Last year, MP and I wrote you regarding the need for federal support for AIS prevention in B.C., and your response in October highlighted the $43.8 million proposed in the 2017 budget for preventing and eradicating AIS. DFO's own evaluation of the fisheries protection program states that aquatic invasive species component is currently restricted from “achieving an impact beyond the Great Lakes”. I am concerned if western Canada and the territories will see any of the funding you mentioned.
In your response to our letter, you wrote that “In British Columbia, there will be new DFO resources to develop, coordinate, and implement regional aquatic invasive species activities.”
Minister, as the 2018 boating and fishing season approaches, what new DFO resources will be provided to British Columbia to help prevent the introduction of zebra and quagga mussels?
Mr. Leblanc, thank you for being here.
As you know, the striped bass spawning ground for the entire gulf is in my region of Miramichi. Last year, the committee travelled to the Atlantic coast, where fishers from all the coastal areas told us that they had never seen so many striped bass, which is a positive sign.
The new regulations will soon be announced, however. I have been talking to people in my riding and I have some concerns. Last year, for the first time, the section of the river where the bass spawn was closed for three weeks. Five years ago, the striped bass population was under 30,000, but it is now estimated at over one million.
Under normal circumstances, people take heed of scientific advice, but since the striped bass population is increasing, they do not really understand why that section of the river was closed for three weeks last year. It is expected that it will be closed again this year. I think people will be very unhappy about that. In my opinion, an awareness campaign would be much more helpful than imposing restrictions on the river.
Moreover, how will we move forward with the first nations on the Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow Inc. initiative?
Thank you for your question, Mr. Finnigan. I really appreciate your advice regarding the striped bass fishery. We are very eager to work with you with regard to the fishery this year. I fully share your observation, and that of other stakeholders, that this species has made an incredible recovery.
In response to a question from our colleague Mr. Arnold, we talked about Pacific salmon. If it could come back as strongly as the striped bass has on the Atlantic coast, from a population of less than 30,000 to over a million, according to estimates that I have also heard, that would be a success. Unfortunately, such an extraordinary success involves other challenges. That is also true for the Atlantic salmon.
Mr. Finnigan, I have not yet seen the final details for this year's fishery plan. I hope we can avoid the three-week closure that we saw last year. I have neither seen nor approved any scientific advice in this regard, but I hope that, through discussions, we will find a way to prevent that from happening again.
This is a recreational fishery that is open to anyone. That is what I like. All kinds of people can enjoy it in a very positive way, as a family, for instance. I hope the catch limits will increase. I will have those details in the coming days.
Moreover, I think it is possible to establish a limited, commercial fishery for aboriginal communities in your riding. Those people might have ideas about the operation of a recreational fishery. That could take the form of a pilot project and have a positive impact on the salmon. I am open to all kinds of ideas like that.
I would ask the deputy minister to provide specific details about the CAST program and the first nations.
Thanks for coming, Minister.
I want to start, Mr. Minister, with recreational fisheries. It's common knowledge that, while the commercial fishery in Canada is worth approximately $2.8 billion—which is significant, of course—the last time I checked, the recreational fishery was $8.3 billion, more than three times as much. Nevertheless, your government has cut out an annual amount of $10 million put in by the previous government. I forget which year it started. I believe it might have been in 2011. I think, Mr. Minister, you'd agree with me that some departments can almost waste $10 million in any given week. That money is out of there. It's not there.
Mr. Larry Miller: Well, if you can, point out where it is, I can't find it.
One point on that is there was due to be a seventh round. That has been cancelled because the office has said that the money is all gone, so they're not replacing it.
The second thing I want to refer to is small craft harbours. I have to point out that Mr. Morrissey said there is $150 million in new funding. I'd like you to point out where that is. In the 2014-15 budget by the previous government, $288 million was allocated. Now there's $250 million, I believe. I stand to be corrected if it's slightly different. I don't know if that's a new kind of math, but it doesn't add up in my mind.
The last thing I'd like you to comment on is the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. I think it's easy for governments of all stripes to forget that outside of the east and west coasts, which are very important, there are huge commercial and recreational fisheries in both the Great Lakes and Manitoba. Do you think the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is funded enough by this government?