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 C-64, 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 C-64 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 C-64 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 C-64 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 C-64 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 C-64 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 C-64, 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 Minister of Rural Economic Development. 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.