Mr. Speaker, it is a huge honour today to rise to speak to Bill C-64, an act respecting wrecks, abandoned, dilapidated or hazardous vessels and salvage operations.
Before I get started, I have to give a huge shout-out and thanks to my colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith for her perseverance and commitment to this issue. Before she was in the House, she was the chair of the Islands Trust. She brought communities together on this issue, because it is so important. She followed the great work of Jean Crowder, who represented the riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. These are Vancouver Islanders who understand these issues from the grassroots. They understand the impact abandoned and derelict vessels have on our coastal waters and the impact they have on the local economy, ecology, and way of life. I appreciate their efforts.
In my riding, there has been much support for Bill C-352 put forward by my colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith. Qualicum Beach and Parksville have been very strong advocates for this bill, as has the Regional District of Nanaimo.
There was an incredible accident in our riding in Deep Bay. Three boats had been listing for over a decade. They were abandoned derelict vessels. The former member of Parliament for Vancouver Island North, a Conservative colleague, promised for 10 years to remove those vessels, but they sat there right through until the 2015 election. That same member voted against the bill Ms. Crowder put forward in the last Parliament. He said that he wanted more of a Washington state model. He was the party whip for the Conservative government and a previous cabinet minister, so he could have asked his government to pursue legislation based on the Washington state model. Ms. Crowder would have welcomed an amendment to support that model, because we know it works. He sat idle.
A boat sank, and when the divers went down, they found two more boats at the bottom. The communities desperately wanted the Silver King and the Sir Wilfrid Laurier removed, because they were threatening 60 jobs adjacent to that listing boat. They were threatening the Deep Bay Marine Field Station of Vancouver Island University, which has a centre for shellfish research they have invested $9 million in. We raised this concern with the federal government, and the Liberals sat idle, despite major storms going through.
We then decided to collectively come together: me; the MLA; Chief Recalma, of Qualicum First Nation; Bill Veenhof, from the Regional District of Nanaimo; and the adjacent shellfish company that was going to be immediately impacted. In fact, it would have been shut down for a year if any of the bunker fuel had been released from those derelict and abandoned boats, and the VIU research facility would have been shut down.
We decided to collectively come together with community members and go out on a boat and invite the media. I want to thank CHEK 6 news, CTV News Vancouver Island, and the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, because they came out, and it was their reporting that made the difference, with our community standing in solidarity. The former minister of fisheries and oceans, my friend from Nunavut, responded at that point, when he saw the pressure, and the Silver King was removed. The Liberals were still hesitant to deal with the Sir Wilfrid Laurier. This boat was a previous crown asset.
Again, my colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith put forward amendments to strengthen the bill to protect our coasts. One of the amendments was to prevent crown assets and assets seized and resold by the government from becoming abandoned vessels by legislating terms and conditions of sale and disposal. It sounds reasonable, but the Liberals rejected it.
On the B.C. coast, there are abandoned vessels from all over the place that still bear a government logo, whether they are from BC Ferries or the Coast Guard, such as the Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The Atlantic coast has a number of people with great intentions who are still purchasing surplus navy vessels, but they become great liabilities. The communities of Shelburne and Bridgewater wanted those conditions in the bill as well, and they were rejected. We raised awareness about the Silver King and the Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and we are grateful that the government responded at that point. I want to thank it for that, but it took a lot of pressure.
This could have been avoided. We could not even figure out who was responsible, because in this bill, the government still had not identified the Coast Guard as the sole receiver of wrecks. We were running around speaking to the parliamentary secretary and the Minister of Transport, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Environment Canada. We were getting turned around, and no one was taking responsibility. That still has not been resolved in this legislation.
I will turn to some of the opportunities. When I was first elected, my colleagues from Vancouver Island and I banded together and went to the Minister of Infrastructure and asked that BC Ferries be eligible for the Building Canada fund, because under the previous Conservative government, it was not eligible. BC Ferries made that loud and clear. Despite the Conservative member from Vancouver Island North saying that it was eligible, it had been rejected on every application, because, it was told, it was not eligible.
We were grateful to the Minister of Infrastructure for changing the requirements and allowing BC Ferries to be eligible for the Building Canada fund. That has resulted in $62 million for BC Ferries, which Mark Collins, the CEO, told me when I ran into him in Vancouver. He was so grateful. He told me that he wanted to come to our riding and listen to my thoughts and concerns with respect to BC Ferries and the way he can support our communities. He also wanted to express his gratitude for our going to Ottawa and working with the government to create the eligibility that has supported all ferry users in British Columbia.
While he was there, I was able to talk to him and showcase Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley as a great opportunity for the BC Ferries experience program so that they can promote each other and work collectively to support the tourism economy.
We also talked about the incredible opportunity we have as the deepest port on the west coast of Vancouver Island, which is heavily underutilized. He clearly expressed to me that shipyards are coming close to capacity and that he wants to find ways we can work together. He wrote a letter of support after visiting the port. He wrote:
BC Ferries is planning to invest $3.5 - $4 billion over the next 12 years in infrastructure and new vessels in addition to our anticipated $150 million annual spend on ship repair. The biggest constraint we face supporting our fleet is the scarcity of dry docking in British Columbia. Currently, two-thirds of our fleet of 35 vessels can be docked at just two facilities. Those facilities are busy and the opportunity for increased dry dock capacity in BC will be of great interest to BC Ferries and other coastal marine customers.
He supports the Port Alberni Port Authority and its hope for a new floating dry dock. The reason I bring that up is that it is an economic opportunity for people on the west coast to create more shipbuilding and maybe a place where we can work with abandoned and derelict boats. We would like to see the government work with all levels of government, the federal government and the federal Liberals, so that we can create those jobs and support a dry dock in our community.
After years of advocacy, the New Democrats are proud that our pressure is finally paying off and that we are seeing some movement on this bill, although it misses the mark on many things. It does not support a vessel turn-in program modelled on the cash-for-clunkers program for vehicles, which has been successful in many provinces. Without a turn-in program, we will not be able to deal with the backlog, which is hundreds of boats. We could create a dedicated fee to help cover the cost of vessel disposal, based on the Washington state model, which is an owner-financed fund dedicated to vessel removal that successfully took the costs off taxpayers, which is what we want.
Where I live, it is clear that most of these abandoned derelict vessels cannot be traced back. We do not know who the owners are. They change hands repeatedly. There is a housing issue where we live, and many people are living on derelict boats, in terrible conditions. These boats are being sold within the community, and people do not know who owns these boats. They live on them literally until they sink. We do not want to see a situation like in Deep Bay, where a boat is listing and threatening the environment and the local economy, and then when it does sink and we go to the bottom, we find three more.