Thank you very much, Madam Chair. It's always a pleasure to be in front of this committee, which works very efficiently. I know I've kept it busy over the past two years passing quite a bit of transport-related legislation, so I thank it for its very efficient operations.
I'm pleased to speak about Bill , the wrecked, abandoned or hazardous vessels act, legislation that will help us protect and preserve the health of Canada's marine ecosystems and the safety of the waterways on which our economy depends.
This is the result of a joint effort. The and I are supported by officials from Transport Canada and Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard. I'm glad that many of the officials are with me today.
Abandoned and wrecked vessels left in our waterways are a serious problem. They can pose safety, environmental, economic, and social risks, and they certainly are a long-standing and growing source of frustration for many shoreline communities.
Proper remediation of these problem vessels can be complex and costly, and up to now the financial burden has often fallen on Canadian taxpayers. It is estimated there are hundreds of these vessels in Canadian waters, ranging from small pleasure craft to large commercial vessels. Some are very problematic; others are less so. We must take action with a risk-based approach, or the challenge will only increase.
The vast majority of vessel owners act responsibly and dispose of their vessels properly; however, some owners see abandonment as a low-cost, low-risk option. This legislation will change that.
The legislation before you addresses the issue in a holistic way and fills the gaps in the existing federal legislative framework.
Up to now, the federal government has only had the authority to address some of the negative effects of abandoned or wrecked vessels, but not the vessel itself. The government has generally also lacked the ability to take proactive action in those situations to avoid placing a burden on taxpayers.
There are other gaps, as well. There is nothing in law today that generally prohibits an owner from abandoning their vessel. There are no requirements for vessel owners to carry wreck removal insurance, and insufficient authorities to order vessel owners to address their hazardous vessels or wrecks.
When a car reaches the end of its useful life, we don't accept owners leaving it by the side of the road for someone else to deal with. This should not be acceptable with vessels either. Our waterways should not, and cannot, be treated as disposal sites for junk vessels.
This is why we have introduced Bill . Let me explain how it will work.
The proposed legislation would make vessel owners clearly liable for any costs incurred in the course of removing or remediating a wreck. This is critical to ensuring that accountability lies with the owner and not the general public. In 2007, the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks established such a regime, and this bill gives the Nairobi convention force of law in Canada. On September 21, 2017, the tabled the convention in the House of Commons.
The convention sets international rules on the rights and obligations of vessel owners, coastal states, and flag states with respect to wrecks. It also provides state parties with a global regime governing liability, compulsory insurance, and direct action against insurers. By acceding to and implementing this convention, Canada would ensure that vessel owners would be held liable for locating, marking, and, if necessary, removing any wreck resulting from a maritime accident and that would pose a hazard.
Furthermore, the proposed legislation would also extend these requirements to all Canadian waters. Owners of vessels that are of 300 gross tonnage or more would be required to have insurance or other financial security to cover the costs related to their removal if they become wrecked.
This legislation will also address irresponsible vessel management in a number of ways. It will prohibit abandonment, allowing vessels to become wrecks, leaving a vessel adrift for more than 48 hours without working to secure it, or leaving vessels in very poor condition in the same area for more than 60 days without consent. These are the kinds of vessels most at risk of becoming abandoned or wrecked.
Another important aspect of the bill is that it enables the federal government to address problem vessels before they become even greater problems with higher costs, including by providing the ability to direct owners to take actions. When owners don't act, the federal government would be authorized to take any measures deemed necessary to address all types of hazards posed by abandoned, dilapidated or wrecked vessels, and the owner would be liable for costs. This part would be led by the Canadian Coast Guard.
The proposed legislation also consolidates existing provisions that deal with wrecks and salvage in one place by incorporating existing Canada Shipping Act, 2001 provisions that pertain to the International Convention on Salvage, 1989, as well as the receiver of wreck. Several important amendments have been made to the long-established and critical function of the receiver of wreck to continue to protect and preserve the rights of owners of found wrecks, as well as the rights of salvors.
This bill has teeth. It would establish an enforcement regime that authorizes the issuing of administrative monetary penalties, establishes regulatory offences and sets out a penalty regime that is intended to deter non-compliance. The penalties are higher than in other marine legislation, to provide a deterrent that reflects the high costs of addressing these vessels. Enforcement of this new legislation will be shared between my department, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. This sharing of responsibilities takes advantage of the distinct roles, mandates and capacities of both departments.
I want to stress that this proposed legislation is one element of a comprehensive national strategy to address abandoned and wrecked vessels that this government announced as part of the larger oceans protection plan in November 2016. The strategy includes a suite of measures to both prevent these problem vessels in the future and address those that litter our waterways now.
We are developing a national inventory of abandoned, dilapidated, and wrecked vessels, along with a risk assessment methodology to rank these vessels according to the risks that they pose. This will allow for decision-making based on evidence.
In 2017, the government launched two funding programs to support the cleanup and removal of smaller high-priority legacy abandoned vessels and wrecks. These programs will help get these boats out of the water, provide funding for educating vessel owners about their responsibilities and disposal options, and support research that will help improve boat recycling and design.
To address the costs of abandoned and wrecked vessels, large and small, in a sustainable way over the longer term, we're also looking at options to establish owner-financed remediation funds.
Our comprehensive strategy also includes improving vessel owner identification. We are currently working on improvements to large vessel registration, and working with provinces and territories to improve pleasure craft licensing.
We will continue to collaborate with provinces, territorial and municipal governments, indigenous groups, local and coastal communities, and stakeholders to implement the national strategy and the proposed legislation effectively.
Our coasts and waterways are the common heritage of all Canadians. They are crucially important to our environment, our communities, our economy, and our way of life.
To conclude, I would remind committee members of the unanimous adoption by the House of private member's motion M-40, which was tabled by my colleague the honourable member for South Shore—St. Margarets in the fall of 2016. It called for a comprehensive approach to dealing with the problem of abandoned and wrecked vessels. With this bill and the oceans protection plan's comprehensive national strategy, we are delivering on these commitments.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
, I would also like to thank you for the reminder on motion M-40, which was passed unanimously by the House in 2016. In that spirit I will put a couple of things on the record for us to consider and for you to understand why we even fast-tracked it past second reading to come straight to committee.
In June of 2015 a former Conservative member of Parliament, John Weston, introduced a private member's bill addressing issues of wrecked, abandoned, and hazardous vessels. Also the 2015, Conservative Party platform included a commitment to support that bill that had been introduced in the House. Finally, as amended at the May 2016 national convention, the Conservative Party's policy declaration has a statement that says that the Conservative Party stands by its commitment to facilitate rehabilitation or demolition of abandoned and derelict vessels.
We have a strong commitment, then, to the issues that are being addressed in this bill. In fact, it was the previous Conservative government that was signatory to the Nairobi convention. I know you mentioned that in your opening comments as well. I was pleased to see that it was introduced in the House as well.
We're supportive. I think we look forward to the study and what we're going to hear from the numerous witnesses who are coming forward. Thank you for introducing this bill.
A couple of my questions are going to be a little more technical in nature. I'm wondering, based on the data you have, if most of the vehicles that are wrecked or abandoned in our waters are flagged under Canadian or foreign flags.
Thank you for your question, and thank you for your motion M-40, which I think has been very important input to all of this.
Yes, there are hundreds of existing wrecks, and our legislation aims to make sure that we don't add to that in the future. We are putting in place measures that will create liabilities for the owners and more solid ways of identifying ownership, as well as a number of other measures.
In the meantime, what we have done is provide two sources of funds. One is called the abandoned boats program, which is run by Transport Canada. This fund is focused on working with communities that have wrecks in their local waters, to work with them on a cost-shared basis to find and to actually remove some of those wrecks. There is also a Fisheries and Oceans small craft harbours program specifically for small craft harbours. It is to do the same thing, essentially, where there are abandoned vessels or wrecked vessels.
Is that going to be enough? No, it's not going to be enough to cover the hundreds that we're talking about. We have taken some specific measures in special cases. Your own experience is in Shelburne, with the Farley Mowat. There is a larger program called the Kathryn Spirit in Lac Saint-Louis in Montreal. The MV Miner is another example, and sometimes the provinces have stepped into it. The Manolis L is another example; there has been removal of leaking oil, but there will be a contract let this summer for bulk removal.
However, there will be a requirement to have more money to deal with these many wrecks. One of the things we're exploring—and I talked about it in my presentation—is much the same as the ship-source oil pollution fund for shipping, which all shipping lines have to contribute to in the case of shipping spill. We may explore the possibility of having a fund that people who own vessels have to contribute into, a fund that is there to take care of incidents when we can no longer trace the original owner and we may have to access something like that. We're looking at ways we can build the funding that's necessary to take care of the existing wrecks that are out there.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for attending this afternoon.
I do want to express my appreciation to members opposite, especially with respect to supporting motion M-40 when it was brought forward by my colleague and having that kick-start this process for the most part.
With that, Madam Chair, I do want to dig a bit deeper into this legislation as it relates to what happens when.
When a vessel is abandoned and contaminants of concern are established, based on the condition of the vessel, there will be obvious effects on the surrounding area, whether they be in water, on water, or on the surrounding land areas, and not just within the specific area but leaching out to further areas downstream.
My question to the minister is this: when would an environmental assessment and/or a site-specific risk assessment take place? Who would then be responsible for that, and what partnerships or protocols would be established through this legislation that would help instigate as well as solidify a process to take care of the challenges that would arise from a derelict vessel?
I'll address the first part of your question.
As the minister already talked about, one part of our initiative is to prepare the inventory of all vessels of concern across the country and to prioritize them in terms of risk assessment, but a risk assessment that is broader than what we have had over the last number of decades, which involved just environmental and navigation hazards. The act will allow us to broaden that into tourism impact, economic impact, and that type of thing. That will help, in essence, deal with more vessels of concern to communities like yours.
In terms of the Cormorant, we are taking action, and we have taken action, to deal directly with the environmental risk, and we continue to deal with that as the vessel takes on more water. We continue to monitor it. That part of our actions we are taking now.
In terms of what the government has done, as part of the oceans protection plan, the government has provided the Coast Guard with some funding to deal with the technical assessments of what we consider the priority vessels of concern across the country. That's a very small list at this point in time, but it is getting us started on dealing with them.
We've dealt with the Manolis Lin terms of the technical assessment, and we're now taking action to get a contractor in place in the spring to deal with it.
We dealt with the Farley Mowat, and I'm very happy that we saw the thumbs-up on that one a little earlier in the year. The Cormorant is among those initial vessels for which we're going to take the funds to do a technical assessment, to look not just at the immediate environmental risk and what we have to deal with for that but also at how we deal with the vessel as a vessel of concern over the long term. It is already on the list.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I'm going to return to the question I asked in my first round.
One of the goals in any of the measures that we've undertaken in our policy platform, certainly, and in our policy declaration statement, or even in that of my former colleague, is to ensure that no undue onus is put on the taxpayer to remedy abandoned vessels. I was asking if there was anything contemplated in the bill besides an insurance requirement to mitigate against a vessel becoming wrecked, abandoned, or made hazardous.
I recognize that this whole bill is to be preventative in many ways against that happening, but I guess I'm speaking more specifically to the strategy in the annex that we have in front of us. It's the “Federal Strategy on Abandoned and Wrecked Vessels”. When I was able to speak to the minister prior to this time with you, he indicated that part of the planned strategy is a “national inventory of problem vessels, prioritized by risk”, but there's also another planned measure here, which is “vessel owner-financed funds to pay for future vessel removals”.
I'm wondering if you could speak to that, because that to me seems like another measure, similar to insurance, that would keep the burden from falling onto the taxpayer. Perhaps you could speak to that. It says it's “planned”. It might be nice to know what the plan is and the timelines on it, but also, what are you envisioning?
Thank you for the question.
I think it's fair to say that we're early on in the plans with respect to that. There are a number of issues that we're trying to work through.
When it comes to pleasure craft, for example, we have been looking at the model of Washington State. For 15 years or so now, they have been collecting a surcharge on top of licensing in order to build up a fund that they use for these vessels that inevitably fall through the cracks, because no matter how robust a system you have, there will be vessels that fall through the cracks. That's one model or one approach. Through that program, as they have a buildup of resources in it, they also periodically offer a limited turn-in situation.
All of these are things that are being looked at. We're talking to the provinces and territories about how that works. Requirements are slightly different across the country. Whereas in B.C. most abandoned vessels are in the water, in Ontario most are on the land. The challenges across the country are a little different, so we're trying to manage that as well in such a large country.
We are in very early days in starting to think through what approach one might take to commercial vessels, larger vessels. I can't really say too much, not because I don't want to but because it's early days in thinking through those strategies. We really are looking at models that are out there.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I do once again want to dig a bit deeper into the process, and I think I'll refer to Mr. Wootton again with respect to some of the comments he made earlier about the protocols that are embarked on by the federal government.
Essentially what I'm hearing is that the federal government does take on ultimate responsibility, and with that, it is made the go-to body to initiate the protocols that are established through this legislation and to establish a strategy. Attached to that strategy are numerous objectives, and then attached to those objectives are numerous plans of action. With that goes taking a lead role to delegate to other partners, such as the provinces, territories, communities, municipalities, and others that may be either directly or indirectly involved in a situation.
In terms of safety concerns, I know in our area, the Great Lakes, a lot of times derelict vessels may be at a dock that might be close to power lines and things of that nature, and therefore pose a safety situation or risk. Finally, there is a role to actively monitor a situation as it relates to challenges with respect to the environment.
I guess it's a twofold question. One, am I correct in assuming that protocol? Two, can you walk me through anything I may have missed?
Thank you for the question.
I think you've summed it up very well. Right now this one-stop-shop portal for the Canadian Coast Guard, as we've heard, is in its infancy. However, I expect this to look like Canada's three Canadian Coast Guard regional operations centres, which are already 24-7 portals for the public to call. Pollution response is a great example. These watch-keepers will also be the conduit for calls about vessels of concern and complaints from the public, and it will be the job of the Coast Guard's new vessels of concern program branch to take that information and add to the inventory.
The hazard analysis piece about how we will quantify the hundreds of vessels that are going to end up on this inventory is still being worked up with our partners, the provinces and indigenous communities. Right now what will be new for the Coast Guard is that we take immediate action when the environment is at risk, so if there's an active spill, we take the action I described earlier and then source the owner.
Now we're going to be talking about economic and social impacts and what that looks like in the hazard matrix. With a list of hundreds of vessels, I don't expect the Coast Guard will be launching on day one with 1,000 vessels and going into removal action mode with local communities, but these officers will go out, and after they've prioritized or triaged Canada's inventory, I expect then to have a discussion on technical assessments, particularly for large assets such as the Viki Lyne II and the larger 300-tonne class of vessels. Then we'll look for solutions on the funding side to take care of those.
If there's an active environmental impact, I expect the Canadian Coast Guard to continue to use its existing authorities to remediate and potentially remove some of those high on the list as triage priorities.
I can't overstate how high the expectation is from the local government side in British Columbia in particular. They've been waiting a really long time to have federal leadership on this matter. When the first funding round was announced, $300,000 this year and $260,000 a year for the small craft harbour segment out of the oceans protection plan, there was quite a bit of disappointment, because many of these communities have been waiting a long time and they don't have the authority, let alone the budget, to deal with it, so now we're starting to get feedback. The District of Oak Bay, the District of Sechelt, and the District of Lunenburg all decided not to proceed with applying for the program, even though they had such a backlog. They were concerned about their own budgets, about liability and legal concerns, and about how they couldn't put the money up front.
When I talked to Bill Veenhof, who is the chair of the Regional District of Nanaimo where I am elected, he said it was just too costly, although the abandoned vessels in his area threaten aquaculture jobs and are really a huge concern.
I just heard from John Roe from the Veins of Life Watershed Society, also known as the Dead Boat Society. They've been doing hands-on removals through all these communities. He said they would have had to fill out 140 pages of application forms to deal with the 20 abandoned vessels they had identified, and he said it was going to cost half a million dollars. He can't afford to pay the 25%.
Given the numbers you have given us today, the take-up has been really tiny. We've had numbers as high as thousands of abandoned vessels across the country, but there were applications for only three removals and four assessments from this very high-profile offer, so can you tell me what you've done to evaluate the barriers to participation and what you can do to make it easier for coastal communities to work with the feds to get these dangerous boats gone?