Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is Gerard McDonald, and I'm the assistant deputy minister of safety and security at Transport Canada. I'm thankful for the opportunity to be here today to discuss ongoing improvements to environmental programs and policies that fall under my purview.
My discussion today surrounds chapter 1 of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development's report, “Oil Spills from Ships”. I would like to extend my gratitude to the commissioner and his staff, because the report is an integral part of our plan to continuously improve and deliver on our objectives.
With me today are my colleagues from Environment Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard. I would like to speak to you about the government-industry partnership known as Canada's marine oil spill preparedness and response regime and its initial response to oil pollution from ships.
Established in 1995, the regime sets out guidelines and a regulatory structure in order to prepare and respond to marine oil spills, and it is based on the “polluter pays” principle.
Transport Canada is the lead regulatory agency, and is responsible for the governance, the overall management, and oversight of the regime.
We play a vital role in monitoring marine activity levels, conduct risks assessments, and make adjustments to the regime as required.
Transport Canada develops and enforces standards to better protect our environment, and through regulations, ensures that the appropriate level of preparedness is available to respond to marine oil pollution incidents in Canada within prescribed time standards and operating environments.
In addition to bringing regulations into effect, Transport Canada strictly enforces pollution prevention regulations through the inspection of ships for compliance with pollution prevention provisions, and through the investigation of pollution incidents.
Transport Canada can also lay charges against anyone who does not comply with the regulations and can issue administrative monetary penalties for being non-compliant with the legislation. Administrative monetary penalties provide a way outside the courts to enforce our laws. They make the Transport Canada enforcement program more effective and in turn can help improve the safety of the marine community, the marine environment, and ultimately the general public.
The partnerships we have in place are instrumental in accelerating the development of mutually beneficial programs, policies, and goals. Canada's national marine oil spill preparedness and response regime is an excellent example of such a partnership. Industry plays a major role in the success of the regime because they have an obligation to ensure an effective level of preparedness and response to an oil spill through compliance with regulatory requirements and successful collaboration with the government. Response to oil spills in Canada is always a combined effort between industry and federal, provincial, and municipal governments and regulators, as well as response organizations.
However, polluters are ultimately responsible for the spills they cause, and remain responsible for the containment and cleanup of a marine oil spill. That is why the Regime is based on the polluter-pay principle.
As one of the partners working with the regime, the Canadian Coast Guard also plays a vital role and will monitor clean-up activities of the polluter, or take over clean-up efforts in situations when the polluter is unknown, unwilling, or unable to respond.
Prevention of oil spills is a priority for the Government of Canada, and the regime has proven to be an extremely effective system that tributes to preventative measures, and ensures an effective response when an oil spill from ships occur.
I want to be very clear when I say that the Government of Canada is well prepared and ready to respond to ship-source oil spills in Canadian waters. We have been doing so for many years, and we will continue to effectively respond to ship-source oil spill emergencies. The regime is a system that ensures cleaner water and enables a timely reaction in the event of an oil spill incident or accident.
I am proud to say that Transport Canada and our partners from both government and industry are committed to continue building on Canada's national marine oil spill preparedness and response regime. We are always working with our partners to improve how this regime functions and, if possible, to provide a more efficient response to oil spills from ships in Canadian waters.
On the recommendation that Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard conduct a national risk assessment related to ship-source oil spills, Transport Canada has pledged to work with our partners to build on risk assessments for all three coasts. Scoping of this risk assessment will begin this year and it will be completed by the end of fiscal year 2011-12.
To speak to the second recommendation, Transport Canada recognizes the need for up-to-date emergency management plans, and has committed to review and update our plans annually.
Transport Canada has recently reviewed our Environmental Prevention and Response National Preparedness Plan. Regarding the recommendation to facilitate a hazardous and noxious substance regime in Canada, we will work with our key partners on this front on developing necessary systems and procedures.
This will complement the work that is already under way to develop a national HNS incident preparedness and response regime. Transport Canada assures Canadians that we are taking action to deliver on our environmental priorities. In light of the recommendations made, we are committed to build on our national marine oil spill preparedness and response regime, as well as risk assessments for preparedness and response efforts to oil spills from ships.
Globalization has opened many markets and increased shipping and trade on a world scale. In turn, this has complicated marine transportation, as factors such as varying activity volumes, vessel types, and increase in the transportation of various hazardous substances are inevitably involved. However, as it stands today, should an HNS incident occur in our waters, the Government of Canada is prepared and ready to respond to ship-source oil pollution. The Canadian Coast Guard, through its national response team, would fulfill a coordination role to monitor the incident and manage cleanup activities. Environment Canada and the industry may also be called upon to contribute to the response efforts.
The complexity of global shipping means there is greater potential for an HNS incident to occur in our waters, which is why there is also a need to work toward the creation of a global framework that can help combat HNS emergencies. Most importantly, a successful global framework will serve as a guiding principle. It will enable Canada to develop an HNS regime to better protect our waters, and in turn it will allow Canada to support conventions and protocols that have been established internationally.
In order to be successful, any regime that Canada develops must be consistent with international conventions and protocols, including the OPRC-HNS protocol, in other words, the protocol on preparedness, response, and cooperation to pollution incidents by hazardous and noxious substances. This will require a great deal of cooperation and coordination at the national and international levels, which will continue to take time to complete.
That being said, work is indeed under way, and some milestones have already been met to move Canada toward an HNS regime.
We examined the chemical regimes of other countries to better understand the complexity of development and application, and we will continue to study what type of chemicals are transported to and from Canada, to help us better define the scope of a successful national framework.
We have invested valuable time to research and analyze related reports and previous initiatives regarding the development of a marine chemical . emergency response regime.
As well, materials to facilitate national consultations have been developed to provide an overview of an HNS regime to stakeholders, and to present the benefits of such a regime.
We are working within Transport Canada and with our government partners on both the accession of the OPRC-HNS protocol and the ratification of the HNS convention on liability and compensation. We have received and are still expecting multiple reports on the trade and traffic of HNS from the marine transportation sector in Canada.
Lastly, we have partnered with the Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution to create an HNS educational guide for the general public. The milestones we have been able to achieve add to the fundamental objective of creating a global HNS regime that will help mitigate the environmental impacts of HNS incidents on our water and ensure the protection and safety of the public.
In closing, I look forward to seeing the long-term benefits of having effective regimes in Canada, a national oil spill preparedness and response regime that aims to continuously improve the safety of our marine communities, and better protection of our environment, as well as a global HNS regime that would lead to the development of a national framework in Canada.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak today. I look forward to responding to your questions.