Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be in our new House of Commons today. I used to sit to the left of the Speaker, but since this chamber is a little bigger, I now get to sit to his right.
I am excited to see the wooden mace here today, because it brings things full circle with respect to the old and the new within this place.
I am pleased to speak on the subject of Bill , an act respecting wrecks, abandoned, dilapidated or hazardous vessels and salvage operations, legislation that will help protect and preserve Canada's marine ecosystems and make our waterways safer.
A year ago, the proposed bill was carefully studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. The committee heard from over 20 witnesses from the marine industry, indigenous groups, civil society, as well as other orders of government. The government has the goal of working in partnership with these key stakeholders to support the implementation of measures contained within the act.
I am delighted with the committee's work and collaboration in adopting six amendments, including an amendment put forward by a member of the opposition. Several important amendments were made to protect and preserve the rights of owners of found wrecks, as well as the rights of salvors. For example, one of the elements of Bill would require that a public notice be posted for a minimum of 30 days to indicate that a wreck has been reported. The receiver of wreck would have to wait out the notification period before taking any action on a wreck. Should other efforts to identify or contact the owner fail, the public notice increases the chance of finding the rightful owner and ensures the owner has an opportunity to come forward and claim his or her wreck.
I am also grateful for the work undertaken by the transport and communications committee in the other place. Before us today is the amendment proposed in the other place, which is meant to ensure that heritage wreck regulation-making powers extend to the wrecks of Canadian and foreign military vessels and aircraft, non-commercial governmental vessels and mineral rights exploration vessels. This was an important addition, and one that will add to the core reason for the bill's existence, namely, to protect and preserve Canada's marine ecosystems and make our waterways safer.
The bill underwent meticulous study by way of debate in both chambers. I would like to thank the members of each for their diligence and thoroughness.
While the vast majority of vessel owners in Canada act responsibly and dispose of their vessels properly, some owners see abandonment as a low-cost, low-risk option for dilapidated vessels. This creates a serious problem for our waterways, posing safety, environmental, economic and social risks.
Proper remediation of these vessels can be complex and costly. Up to now, the financial burden has often fallen to Canadian taxpayers. With this legislation, the federal government will have more authority to prevent the hazards caused by abandoned and wrecked vessels, rather than the job of dealing with the risks that these vessels pose after an incident has already occurred.
Bill addresses the issue of abandoned, wrecked and hazardous vessels in a comprehensive way and seeks to fill the gaps in the existing federal legislative framework.
The federal government has had limited authority to address problem vessels for far too long. Until now, authorities were limited in addressing many of the harmful impacts of problem vessels, such as pollution discharge and obstruction to navigation. The legislation addresses the vessel itself and would increase the government's ability to take proactive action. In short, the legislation actually has some teeth. The federal government will be able to direct owners to fix problems with their dilapidated or hazardous vessels. If they do not, the federal government will do so, making owners liable for costs and expenses.
The bill would prohibit not only abandonment but also leaving the 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 consecutive days without consent.
Bill would put in place an enforcement framework, establishing strong regulatory offences and penalties to punish non-compliance.
Enforcement of this new legislation will be shared between the Department of Transport, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard. To support the effective implementation of the legislation, the Canadian Coast Guard is developing a national inventory and a risk-assessment methodology to allow us to understand the extent of the issue nationally and to help prioritize a response to problem vessels based on the risks they pose. This builds on the strengths and distinct roles, mandates and capacities already existing within each department.
Bill also consolidates existing provisions that deal with wrecks and salvage into a single act by incorporating the existing Canada Shipping Act, 2001, provisions that pertain to the International Convention on Salvage in 1989 as well as the functional role of the receiver of wreck. Owners of vessels that are 300 gross tons or larger would also now be required to have wreck insurance or other financial banking to cover the cost related to their removal if they become a hazardous wreck.
Bill is but one piece of a national strategy to address abandoned and wrecked vessels. Other measures of this strategy include two short-term funding programs to support communities in assessing and removing abandoned or wrecked vessels, the establishment of long-term owner finance funds to address problem vessels, the enhancement of owner identification, as well as initiatives to increase awareness of the new legislation and of vessel recycling and design.
By ensuring that vessel owners are held liable for locating, marking and, if necessary, removing any wreck that poses a hazard resulting from a marine casualty, Canada would meet its obligations under the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007, once it becomes a party to that convention. When a car reaches the end of its useful life, we do not accept owners leaving it by the side of the road for someone else to deal with, and so it should not be acceptable with vessels on water.
I will conclude by reiterating that the broader strategy aims to ensure that all causes and pathways of irresponsible vessel management are addressed. Our coasts and waterways are symbolic of Canadian life and culture, which is certainly no more true than in my province of Newfoundland. The measures contained within the proposed wrecked, abandoned or hazardous vessels act would help prevent and reduce the number of abandoned, dilapidated and wrecked vessels in Canadian waters for the benefit of future generations.
Our waterways should not and cannot be treated as junkyards for vessels that have reached their end of life or have been abandoned by irresponsible owners. Our coasts and waterways are the common heritage of all Canadians, and they are crucially important to our environment, communities, economy and our way of life. Therefore, I encourage all members to support Bill , which will go a long way in protecting these resources.
With respect to my own riding of St. John's East, I do have a number of small craft harbours and a number former ports within the riding. Certainly, this issue of abandoned vessels has been a problem. I receive complaints almost every winter about people leaving their vessels unattended in the small craft harbour of Tappers Cove in Torbay.
As well, our government has been instrumental in helping the small craft harbour in Bauline remove a number of dilapidated and abandoned vessels that accumulated on its slipway. This is extremely dangerous to the infrastructure. It is dangerous to people who also use the slipways in the small craft harbour port facilities for their own recreational or commercial use.
Also, it is expensive to the small craft harbours, which are often staffed in my end of the world by volunteers. These are people who give their time to make their communities safer and more economically vibrant. They do not necessarily have the wherewithal or financial means to address the port's problems regarding wrecked or abandoned vessels themselves. However, we are very encouraged by what has already been done. The small craft harbour port authorities in my riding are very happy with our taking this additional step.
I would like to thank and congratulate one of my colleagues from Nova Scotia who is now the . She has really been a champion on this issue, pushing to make sure that the issue of abandoned vessels is addressed not only in her neck of the woods in rural Nova Scotia but throughout the waterways of our country, because it has become a real and substantial problem.
In addition to the two ports that I mentioned, there are also issues in Flatrock, Pouch Cove, Portugal Cove—St. Philip's, and when it was within the framework of the federal review and federal authority, the small craft harbour Quidi Vidi. However, this proposed legislation would even help in situations like the small craft harbour in Quidi Vidi. Even though it is not a federally designated port, the vessels that are moored, tied and used there would still be governed by the legislation. Therefore, there will be an opportunity for the non-federally funded small craft harbours to help us in making sure that those ports are not burdened by derelict and abandoned vessels.
Again, I would encourage all members of the House to support the twice-amended bill and to see it enacted so that our waterways can be safer in the 2019 shipping, fishing and recreational use seasons.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for , the leader of the Green Party, for her very thoughtful consideration of this topic.
As we have heard now from two opposition parties, they are keen to see more in the bill than what we have, but they also want to see that it gets through the House and is enacted and implemented. There are provisions in the bill, perhaps not as strong as the member for would like to see, regarding insurance. I know that in the mining industry, the requirement that people have bonds for any future environmental impact of their work is an extremely important aspect of any improvement for the development of those mines. However, we still have historical mining operations throughout the country, including in Newfoundland and Labrador, certainly in Labrador, where proper financial protections and bonds associated with future cleanups are not as strong as they could be.
This gets us to a good place, I believe, with respect to abandoned vessels. Could it be stronger? Certainly the enforcement mechanisms and the financing available to small craft harbours and other ports for the removal of vessels probably could always be a little bit more, but this is something that really goes into budget considerations and budget asks at budget time.
I know that we were successful in a previous budget in getting an extra $250 million to small craft harbours. It was not A-based funding. I am sure that would have been the preference of the member for , but it was funding that allowed for the cleanup of these ports, making them safer, improving the infrastructure, and in certain cases, having the removal of vessels. We would obviously like to see more of that ourselves.
Mr. Speaker, I am very thankful for the opportunity to speak to the government's response to the Senate amendments to Bill , an act respecting wrecks, abandoned, dilapidated or hazardous vessels and salvage operations. I am very pleased that the government has agreed to accept these amendments and incorporate them into this bill.
The issue of ocean war graves is one that needs to be addressed. I will be discussing the amendments in more detail in a few minutes, but I would like to review how we have come to this place.
Being from Saskatchewan, I have to acknowledge that the issue of wrecked and abandoned vessels is not one I am overly familiar with. I meet with constituents all the time, respond to their letters and emails, and host town halls throughout my riding of Yorkton—Melville, and I can honestly say that not once has this issue ever been raised by one of my constituents. However, the issue of wrecked and abandoned vessels is an extremely important issue for many members of Parliament and their constituents who represent and live in coastal ridings, and it is important to all of Canada because of the lakes and rivers, as the member mentioned, across our country and the incredible privilege we all have of enjoying our coastlines.
The issue of wrecked and abandoned vessels is an important issue, and Bill was considered so important that it was expedited through second reading so that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities could immediately study it.
As a country, we need to protect our coasts from the harmful impact of wrecked or abandoned vessels, both large and small, as well as protect Canadian taxpayers from the negative impact and cost of wrecked, abandoned and derelict vessels. That said, at this time, I would like to discuss the amendments the Senate made to Bill , which are the substance of the motion we are debating today.
During its study, the members of the transport, infrastructure and communities committee heard from two witnesses who raised the issue of ocean war graves and Canada's lack of protection for them. Ocean war graves are the final resting place of Canadian sailors and merchant mariners who were lost at sea. It was extremely disturbing to me to learn that the final resting place of soldiers and mariners do not have the same protection as land-based military graves. In fact, at present, it is not illegal for divers to enter these sunken vessels and remove artifacts, including human remains. I believe that this is a legislative and regulatory gap that Parliament and the government definitely need to fill.
The two witnesses I referenced were Patrick White, the executive director of Project Naval Distinction, and retired merchant navy captain and Second World War veteran Paul Bender. These witnesses estimated that the remains of approximately 1,200 Canadian sailors and merchant mariners were lying at rest in nine wrecks in Canadian, international and foreign waters and that none of them had been afforded the necessary protection to discourage salvaging and desecration.
Captain Bender and Mr. White made some specific recommendations at committee. The website states the following:
Project Naval Distinction calls on the government and Parliament of Canada to:
1. issue a policy statement affirming the government of Canada’s intention to provide legal protection for Canada’s ocean war graves and make a formal request to the government of the United Kingdom to protect Canadian ocean war graves in UK waters;
2. use any available legislative and executive powers to provide immediate protection for Canada’s ocean war graves, as an intermediate measure until stand-alone legislation can be enacted; and
3. enact stand-alone legislation to provide legal protection for Canada’s ocean war graves, ensuring the punishment for desecration is in line with the punishment for desecration of land-based war graves.
I am really pleased to bring to the attention of Canadians, serving members of our armed forces and our veterans community that the member for , who serves them as the official opposition's shadow minister for transport, sought amendments to Bill at the House of Commons transport committee to protect war graves, in line with the witnesses' recommendations.
After learning about the legislative gap on this issue, following a study of Bill , the TRAN committee undertook a short study specifically on the issue of ocean war graves. During the study, Mr. White and Captain Bender were able to provide further testimony on the issue of ocean war graves and the lack of protection for them.
Additionally, during the study, the committee heard from officials from the Departments of National Defence and Transport as well as the Parks Canada Agency on how the Government of Canada might fill this gap. From the study, the committee produced a report called, “Canada's Ocean War Graves”, which contained a number of recommendations for the government. I would like to highlight two of them.
Recommendation one states:
That the Government of Canada draft new legislation similar to the United Kingdom’s Protection of Military Remains Act to protect Canada's ocean war graves.
Recommendation two states:
That the Government of Canada explore all options for using existing legislative and regulatory powers to provide immediate legal protection for ocean war graves, on an interim basis until the bill is passed.
These recommendations, and the report as a whole, were supported by all members of the committee, which clearly demonstrates the broad support this initiative has across party lines, although it has not been mentioned much to this point this morning. In its response to the committee's report, the ministers responsible for national defence, transport and Parks Canada indicated that the government would be open to supporting an amendment to Bill , which would allow for interim protection to be created. However, by the time the government's response was received by the committee, the bill had already passed the House and was under consideration by the Senate.
I am very relieved and pleased that the hon. senators took up this issue. In particular, the Hon. Fabian Manning of Newfoundland and Labrador drafted an amendment to the bill, which was adopted at Senate committee and subsequently supported by the Senate as a whole. This has brought us to the point where we are today.
While I have highlighted the work done on this issue by our colleagues on the House of Commons transport committee, members of the Senate, the government and advocates like Captain Bender and Patrick White, I would be remiss if I did not note the broad support for action on the issue by our public, by Canadians.
An e-petition as well as regular paper petitions generated hundreds of signatures from Canadians across the country who called on the government to act. While the ultimate desire of the petitioners was that stand-alone legislation be enacted to protect Canada's ocean war graves, they also recognized that interim protection was better than no protection at all.
I want to thank the many citizens who volunteered their time to circulate petitions and collect signatures in order to further highlight this issue to the government.
As official opposition deputy shadow minister for veterans affairs, I have many concerns and issues with the Liberal government's treatment of veterans and their issues. This won the hearts and minds of veterans during the last election by placing his hand over his heart and swearing that he would never take veterans to court and that he would provide them with lifelong pensions comparable to the old veterans charter.
The then minister of justice, who is now the , did revive the Equitas court case and reinstated the lawyer who had been removed at the request of the veteran plaintiffs, by the previous Conservative minister of Veterans of Affairs, the member of Parliament for . Today, our veterans know that, in their words, “they were duped”. On top of the betrayal of a public and written promise, the responded to a question by a veteran at his Edmonton town hall, saying that they were asking for more than the government could give.
Mr. Speaker, I am bringing it back. I would like to note that I am talking about veterans issues in regard to ocean war graves, which is the focus of this debate, and yet was not mentioned by the member across the floor. I am definitely returning to this issue in regard to veterans.
The signed off on a huge cash payout to Omar Khadr. He affirmed Veterans Affairs funding going to treat PTSD of an individual who has never served a day in the Canadian military, for PTSD incurred by murdering an off-duty police woman.
The backlog in responses to benefit claims is now over 29,000 cases. As well, providing access to personal service dogs as an option for treatment of mental health and physical injury has been delayed. In addition, it has been very difficult to get the government to focus on the significant issue around the treatment of mefloquine toxicity.
However, I am extremely pleased to say that scientific research has been growing among our allies. Now the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs has agreed to a study of new scientific findings about what our allies are doing on the issue of mefloquine. That is a very good thing.
Veterans are already anticipating validation of the anecdotal findings. The challenge will be to complete the study in time to submit a report and secure a response from the government before the House rises.
I will continue to advocate for Canada's veterans for the services they need and for the benefits they have earned. They deserve this, and Canadians expect it.
Today, on this specific issue, I am pleased to say I support this move by the government. I want to thank the for allowing his bill to be amended in order to provide Canada's ocean war graves interim protection.
I look forward to the quick passage of the bill and I hope the government will do all in its power to expedite the regulation development process so that the final resting places of our sailors and merchant mariners lost at sea are protected from desecration. It is these sailors with the Royal Canadian Navy and the mariners of the Merchant Navy who I would like to thank before I end my speech.
I would like to encourage all parliamentarians to come and experience the Battle of the Atlantic parade and commemorative ceremonies on May 5 of this year at the National War Memorial. The struggle between the allied and German forces for control of the Atlantic Ocean during World War II was the war's longest continuous battle. The need to keep the vital flow of men and supplies going between North America and Europe brought the war to Canada's doorstep. U-boats torpedoed ships within the sight of Canada's east coast, and even in the St. Lawrence River.
With Canada's Merchant Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force playing a key role, the triumph in the Battle of the Atlantic came at a very high price. Nearly 400 allied ships were sunk between January and July of 1942. More than 1,600 Merchant Navy personnel from Canada and Newfoundland were killed.
Most of the 2,000 Royal Canadian Navy officers and men who died during the war were killed in this battle, along with 752 members of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Also, 136 civilians died when the ferry SS Caribou was sunk as it crossed from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland.
These brave men, who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of Canada, deserve our thanks for the price they and their loved ones paid. We can honour them today by speaking to this recommendation and supporting these measures, which will provide protection to the final resting places of those who died at sea.
We must remember them.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her speech. I also want to thank her for talking about veterans and all those working and making the ultimate sacrifice at sea. The NDP will support the Senate's amendments with regard to the protection of ocean war graves in Bill .
I would like to know what my colleague thinks about the fact that the Senate and the Liberals rejected 12 of the 13 amendments proposed by the NDP to improve Bill C-64. The amendments were put forward by my former colleague , who was denied the right to debate her own bill. She had the collaboration, support and consent of many coastal communities and chambers of commerce, especially in British Columbia. Her bill would have helped improve this bill, which has several flaws. For example, it would have dealt with the thousands of abandoned vessels still polluting our waterways and improved the vessel registration system, so that shipowners could be held liable for abandoned vessels. It would have shifted the financial burden off the shoulders of taxpayers by establishing a fee for vessel registration to cover the disposal cost of vessels.
I would like to give my colleague a sense of the situation. Seven years ago, the Kathryn Spirit was abandoned in my riding, Salaberry—Suroît, by a company that wanted to dismantle it. The company was unable to do that, so it cost Canadian taxpayers $24 million. Under this bill, that company would have had to pay a fine.
Unfortunately, since there is not enough money earmarked for this and the bill is lacking certain elements, we cannot be sure the federal government would have been able to take responsibility for the vessel.
Does my colleague think the federal government should improve its bill to ensure that the polluter pays principle applies to vessel recycling? That would save taxpayers having to pick up the tab for owners who abandon their vessels on our shorelines.