Thanks very much, Chair Sgro and committee members, for the invitation to be with you this morning. It's an honour to appear before you and participate in a discussion on the Navigation Protection Act.
I am David Marshall, as introduced, the founding executive director of the Fraser Basin Council. It is a not-for-profit organization established in 1997, with a mandate to advance sustainability in the Fraser River basin and throughout British Columbia.
Earlier in my career as a young professional engineer, I was doing water quality work for the International Joint Commission on the St. Lawrence River. That was when I was first introduced to the then navigable waters protection act. I became more familiar with the act when I was involved with the Canadian environmental assessment process from 1978 to 1990. This act was one of the oldest in Canada, as you know, designed to ensure that Canada's commercial and recreational navigable waterways were protected from any works that might affect navigation.
The amendments that came into force in 2014 concentrated the application of the act on 162 of Canada's busiest commercial and recreational navigable waterways. There are good reasons in this review process to discuss the scope of the legislation and whether it should apply more broadly to navigable rivers, lakes, and waterways in Canada.
I am pleased to see this opportunity for public input, and will leave it to others to bring forward perspectives on this important issue. I would flag the importance of respecting aboriginal title and rights in this process in any proposed legislative changes.
My remarks today are focused on the Fraser River, one of the rivers on your inclusion list, and a pressing challenge ahead. The Fraser River is one of the 62 rivers included on the current schedule to the act. It is a critical waterway that supports busy commercial and recreation-related navigation. The Fraser is nearly 1,400 kilometres long, from its headwaters high in the Rocky Mountains to its mouth at the Strait of Georgia. First nations communities have travelled and settled along this river for over 10,000 years, a testament to its enduring attributes.
Today the Fraser remains a living, working river, as well as being designated as one of Canada's heritage rivers. It supports globally significant Pacific salmon and sturgeon populations, B.C.'s aboriginal commercial and recreational fishery sectors, the transport of timber and forest products and other natural resources, as well as operations at the port of Vancouver, which connects Canada to its Pacific Rim trading partners. As noted in a 2014 report from the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, the port of Vancouver is the largest port in Canada, and largest port by export tonnage in North America. The port operations on the Fraser River rival those of the St. Lawrence Seaway, both in terms of tonnage and jobs.
Consider the entire Fraser River basin, which is the fifth-largest river basin in Canada, spanning an area of 238,000 square kilometres, comparable in size to the State of California. It is home to two out of three British Columbians, with over 50% of all British Columbians living in communities of the Lower Mainland and the lower Fraser River.
The threat to this region, which would include major impacts on navigation, and that I wish to draw to your attention today, is flood. B.C.'s Lower Mainland faces two major flood issues and threats: Fraser River spring freshet flooding, and coastal flooding during winter storm surges.
Nine years ago, in the spring of 2007, I remember being very concerned about regular news items on the quickly rising Fraser River. The snowpack that year was unusually high and there was significantly warm weather, a rapid snowmelt, and a forecast of rain. Everyone was concerned about the dikes being breached.
There was significant investment in urgent flood mitigation work to avoid suffering major economic and social consequences. Fortunately, we dodged a bullet, as the waters of this mighty river came within a metre of overtopping the dikes. That was truly a major wake-up call for all of us. A lesson to be learned is to plan well ahead and to invest wisely rather than reacting in the days and weeks prior to the rise, in the crisis.
Then came, as we all know, the huge Alberta floods in 2013. The province of Alberta has incurred huge economic losses, with uninsurable claims totalling over $4 billion, and total losses of about $6 billion.
In B.C.'s Lower Mainland, the threat of a major flood is significant. The region has been subject to major floods twice before in recorded history, in 1894 and 1948, when the population was small. Today, 300,000 people live in the Lower Mainland flood plain areas and there is extensive infrastructure at risk, much of which supports navigation on the river, that would impact the whole region, the province, and the country.
Over the past two years, the Fraser Basin Council has facilitated the first phase of a collaborative Lower Mainland flood management strategy. The process brings together 43 government and private sector funding partners, which is unprecedented, including the Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia, and every single municipality in the region.
The phase one work was completed this past spring. I've brought you some reports of that work.
We know now there is a growing risk of flood in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, both in terms of flood frequency and size, because of sea level rise and other projected impacts of climate change. If a major Fraser River or coastal flood were to occur between now and the year 2100, it would trigger losses estimated at $20 billion to $30 billion, which could be the largest economic disaster in Canadian history. A greater level of protection is needed.
A recent assessment carried out in phase one by the provincial inspector of dikes showed that 71% of the assessed Lower Mainland dikes are vulnerable to failure from overtopping during a major Fraser River or coastal flood scenario. Only 4% of assessed dike segments meet current provincial standards for dike crest height, which includes 0.6 metres of freeboard above the water surface elevation of the design flood event.
We know the problem and the seriousness of the consequences. Now we are working on the solution.
Phase two of the strategy is now under way and will build options within a regional flood action plan by 2018, including a cost-sharing proposal. This work is possible only through the collaborative efforts of federal, provincial, local, and first nations governments, together with various private and non-government participants, including Port Metro Vancouver and the wharf operators association.
It is a process we believe is unique in Canada, because it has everyone at the table, working together proactively.
At the Fraser Basin Council, we have long worked in integrated flood management and we are honoured to facilitate and manage a process that will protect this vital transportation and navigation corridor.
The Government of Canada has been a partner in phase one of the work, and INAC informed us last week that it will continue to be a partner throughout phase two. Because we believe in full collaboration and proactive action, we encourage Transport Canada and other federal departments and agencies to have representation in this process to help inform the flood protection options to be explored.
We recognize that any proposals for changes in flood protection infrastructure will be subject to the Navigation Protection Act and must respect its intent.
Proactive leadership in working through issues will be invaluable to coming up with a solid flood action plan.
Thank you for your time, and I welcome your questions.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
This morning, I did not have an opportunity to speak to my motion asking that we suspend our work until the Minister of Transport submits his own amendments to the bill. That would make our work much more effective and functional, preventing us from spending taxpayers' money for no reason.
Mr. Marshall, thank you very much for agreeing to appear before the committee. It's very much to your credit.
It must be said that this is the second meeting for which we have tried to have witnesses and that they did not respond to our request. This demonstrates the lack of interest of organizations in appearing for this study, because they cannot find anything to say. There is absolutely nothing to say about the minister's expectations of the committee. There is nothing to say, because the amendments made in 2012 by the previous government suit the people who have to work with the Navigation Protection Act. I think meeting before finding out the intended amendments is a waste of time.
In the last session, I even had the opportunity to hear my colleagues opposite repeatedly say that the amendments were not written in advance, that the minister had no expectations and that the goal was to hear from the witnesses to find out what they had to say. Once again, that's not what the minister's mandate letter says. Instead, it says the following:
||Work with the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to review the previous government's changes to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, restore lost protections, and incorporate modern safeguards.
On the Department of Transport's own site, it says:
||The Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, along with the Minister of Transport, asked Parliament's Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to examine recent changes to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act and to hear from Canadians.
So the intent is to change things and turn back the clock.
Furthermore, the letter that we received from the Minister of Transport and Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard is very clear:
|| As part of our mandate from the Prime Minister, we have been asked to work together to review the previous government's changes ... to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards.
Madam Chair, if that does not tell the committee what results and conclusions to reach in its work, then what does? I don't see what the minister could have done differently in telling our committee to undo what the previous government had done, to destroy it and to study a way of doing things. All the witnesses we have heard—most of them, to be precise—have confirmed that—
Madam Chair, with all due respect, I stress that the site of the Government of Canada says:
||The Government of Canada has promised to review the recent changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards.
It seems to me that the government has already made up its mind, despite all the fine remarks, all the goodwill and all the excellent questions my colleagues have asked the witnesses who appeared before us. We have actually been able to address some very interesting points, which may assist the minister in making decisions.
However, the minister has already made his choice. The government has already made up its mind. I think it is absolutely essential that we stop and that we take a moment to let the minister do his own work. He should then tell us himself what the changes are.
As I read earlier, the “Government of Canada has promised to review the recent changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act”. As far as I know, the committee is not the government.
It is also talking about “restore lost protections”. For my colleague, that already clearly indicates that the minister intends to direct the work of our committee.
Finally, it says “incorporate modern safeguards”. Two of the groups we received last week, the Canadian Construction Association and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, were quite clear on the issue. They said that the legislation had made it possible to carry out work at a lower cost and to improve the predictability of work schedules.
What do we need when we work in our communities? We want to complete the work within a reasonable time.
Everyone used to complain that anyone, at any stage, could decide that a small stream serving only as a runoff during heavy rains could become a waterway.
We absolutely do not. We prefer to avoid the courts, if at all possible. That's why I emphasized in an earlier question the importance of bringing people together right from the outset, trying to respect their various interests, looking for the common ground, working together in coming up with practical solutions, and moving forward.
To give you an example that I think relates to navigation, a few years ago there was always the continuing risk of flooding in the Fraser River. Prior to that our salmon stocks started to disappear. People were worried, because they felt the habitat was being destroyed because of heavy excavation in the river to take gravel out of the riverbed. As a result, they felt there was some evidence of destroying critical habitat for salmon. There was therefore a moratorium placed by the provincial government on gravel mining in the Fraser River. The federal government's Department of Fisheries and Oceans supported it. Then the local government politicians became concerned, because they felt that the riverbed was starting to rise and that therefore we were putting the communities at risk from a flood.
We wanted to know what we could do. We brought together all the key interests, including first nations communities that were on the flood plain. We asked what we could do to try to ensure safety while taking into account navigation interests, flood protection interests, as well as salmon interests.
We came up with a five-year gravel management strategy that was agreed to by the federal and provincial governments and the first nations, which would determine when gravel could come out of the river, in what quantities, and at what location, in order to minimize the impact on salmon habitat.
That's a classic case of people coming together, avoiding the courts, and coming up with a practical solution. Most of our work is in that area.
I have to give a lot of credit to you, Mr. Marshall, for a lot of the issues you're dealing with and how you're answering the questions. You seem to be part of an organization that's taken the bull by the horns with respect to sustainability of the watershed, improvement planning, water quality, fish and habitat, wildlife, and increasing community resilience, river flood protections, etc. That credit is to be given because we don't always see that due diligence in organizations. They depend on others. Once again, I want to give you that credit.
I want to dig a bit deeper on process—I think member Fraser touched on it and so did member Hardie—that being, for lack of a better word, Mr. Marshall, a mechanism that you as an organization that is working extremely hard can be a part of, whether it be federal or provincial. I know in Ontario, for example, with the watershed, we have tribunals, courts of revision, a process looked after by the province, through the Drainage Act, as well as the municipalities.
This, quite frankly, is where we are right now, because there always seems to be loose ends, and when you have loose ends and you don't have a process that's part of that, what ends up happening is that you keep changing legislation, depending on which government happens to be holding office on that particular day, which we saw with the last government and the reason this government is trying to get away from that process.
Do you see a middle ground there, whereby, whether it be an organization, a level of government, a ministry, the Canadian Transportation Agency, a process delegated to an authority that can deal with a lot of these issues, especially with respect to appeals, would be appropriate?
Before I continue with my response, thanks for your comments about our organization. It's very much appreciated.
I talked before about the safe tables, but our particular organization, if you look at its board of directors, has federal, provincial, local, first nations, private sector, and civil society all represented. To have that degree of participation is unheard of in Canada. They all sit at the table as equals and bring their attributes to the table. I feel that initially that's why we're able to sort out some pretty tough issues. It will be 20 years old next year, which is hard to believe. We've cracked some really tough sustainability issues, not only in the Fraser River system but elsewhere in the province of British Columbia.
When we get to the point where we're not able to crack the issues—and we do rely on a particular legal instrument, whether it's federal, provincial, and, in some cases, both. To just give you a quick example, some of you probably have driven the road to Whistler and gone by Britannia Mine. That used to be the number one pollution problem in North America. Nothing could live in the foreshore.
We wanted to host the Olympic Games in 2010, but it would have been an insult and embarrassment to Canada, so we brought together all the regulatory agencies and drew upon their respective legal instruments to sort out that problem. Now everybody comes from all over the world to see that solution. Pink salmon have now returned to Britannia Creek for the first time in 50 years. That was done by going to higher levels of authority at the appropriate time, not right off the bat.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I do appreciate it.
I echo my colleagues' comments here this morning in terms of really appreciating the fact that you are here and that you are providing your testimony. We do appreciate the opportunity to add that to the conversation we are having, notwithstanding the fact that we believe there are perhaps some foregone conclusions to the conversation.
I want to speak to the notion that, when the act was changed back in 2012, and even before that, when we started to contemplate changes in 2009, there wasn't enough consultation. I find it passing strange that on June 16, ministers ,, , , and announced that they would begin consultations on the Navigation Protection Act, yet in his appearance in front of the committee three weeks ago, the Minister of Transport stated, “We are currently not holding formal consultations.”
This is perhaps supposed to be the broad consultation that the minister or the government would have said was lacking when the changes were made by the previous government, yet we find that there is very little appetite by many witnesses who have been contacted to come and participate in this consultation. What we have actually heard from those who have taken the time to come is that the act is working, that it is doing what it was intended to do.
I think even your own testimony would confirm this, when you said that there are better processes in place and that the act is acting as a catalyst, bringing the various parties together to have the conversations much earlier in the process.
I guess what I want to speak to, then, is something that my colleague across the way raised in terms of the complaint process. We know that there is a mechanism for individuals. First, we know that the minister has the authority to add waterways back under the protections, should a community ask him to do that. We also know there is a mechanism for the complaint process, as my colleague pointed out.
Are you aware of any complaints that have come forward that had to go through the process that has been embedded in the legislation since 2012, since the act was changed? If not, would you agree that a process that is acting as a catalyst, bringing people together much earlier in the process, means that there are fewer complaints?
Yes, before we close and go into a confidential session.
Earlier I had put a motion forward to adjourn debate, and I'm of the understanding, through you, Madam Chair, to the clerk, that once you put a motion forward to adjourn debate, it takes precedence. It is without debate, and being a dilatory motion, it has to be addressed once it has been placed on the floor.
Quite frankly, to the member across, I was trying to give him an opportunity to have more debate and proper consideration of his motion. With that said, the reason I put that motion forward was out of respect to the witness that was here, and out of respect for the limited time we had, because votes were being called at 10 o'clock.
I have a question through you, Madam Chair, to the clerk. Is that not the case? Once a motion is put forward to adjourn debate, one, it takes precedence, and two, it being a dilatory motion, it is without debate and must be addressed immediately.