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Evidence of meeting #7 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was habitat.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Siddika Mithani  Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Claire Dansereau  Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Marc Grégoire  Commissioner, Canadian Coast Guard, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
David Balfour  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Fisheries Management, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Kevin Stringer  Assistant Deputy Minister, Program Policy, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
David Bevan  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Mr. Tremblay, it's your turn.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Thank you.

Good afternoon, Mr. Minister.

Most people on the east coast and the shores of the St. Lawrence were outraged when the closure of the two rescue centres in St. John's and Quebec City was announced.

The rescue centre in Quebec City is the only bilingual rescue centre. How do you plan to address the concerns of people with respect to getting assistance in French, in the event of an emergency?

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

Thank you for the question. I know I've answered this a number of times in the House.

Regarding the St. John's operation and the Quebec operation, the Quebec one will be consolidated into the Trenton location and one in St. John's will be consolidated into the location in Halifax.

We're very conscious of the language requirements. We actually believe that we will be increasing our capabilities in providing bilingual services under one roof, with both National Defence and Coast Guard personnel. It's not my intention to ever put any mariner at risk as a result of language, and we're being very conscious and prudent in the way we're approaching this. We're taking our time to go through the consolidation, and we're on track to have that happen by the spring of 2012.

I'm not concerned there will be any lapse in bilingual capacity, and the consolidation strongly suggests there will be an improvement in bilingual capacity in both of those operations.

I don't know if the Coast Guard would like to say anything about it.

3:55 p.m.

Marc Grégoire Commissioner, Canadian Coast Guard, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Minister, I would just like to add one thing, since you covered all the other topics. When the transition takes place, we are going to make sure that services are bilingual in both centres, in Halifax and Trenton.

Right now, I admit that there are gaps on occasion. For example, every time I went to the centre in Halifax, they had a bilingual service, but I was told that this is not always the case. In addition, the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in Quebec City sometimes helps the centre in Halifax.

Before the transition, we are obviously going to make sure the staff is perfectly bilingual and trained on the job in Trenton and Halifax.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Still, we know of many cases that have been transferred to Quebec City because the people working there did not necessarily have the ability to provide assistance in French.

In the Maritimes, there are also different accents. In emergency situations, it is difficult for an anglophone who knows French to understand all the different accents and communicate properly in French. That is what I am worried about.

I think it is good to have a bilingual person, but the person's mother tongue should really be French, or the person should at the very least know French very well.

3:55 p.m.

Commissioner, Canadian Coast Guard, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Marc Grégoire

I am francophone myself, and I can relate to your concerns and those of people involved in water sports on the St. Lawrence River, everywhere in Quebec and in the Maritimes. We actually also have to serve francophones who work or sail in the Atlantic waters of the Maritimes.

We have launched a staffing process. First of all, we gave all our employees in Quebec City the option of being transferred to Trenton or Halifax, if they wished. We did the same for the employees in St. John's, but let's just focus on the francophone issue.

We have also launched a staffing process in case we didn't get enough people who wanted to move. We have at least 20 francophones from the people we have pre-selected who are going to do the language tests. Our language proficiency requirement for both places is the highest level we have in the federal public service, meaning Level C in oral proficiency. We need people who are perfectly capable of providing services in both official languages. I am well aware of the volume of French calls we are going to get, especially on the stretch from Montreal to Quebec City.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you, Mr. Grégoire.

Mr. Hayes.

October 6th, 2011 / 3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. It is nice to see you again. And to your staff, it's nice to have an opportunity to meet you all.

I was really pleased to be appointed to this committee and, as a first-time member of Parliament, it's obviously my first time on this committee. It's really an honour to address the concerns of Canada specifically in regard to fisheries and oceans.

I am from Sault St. Marie, so my concerns are geared towards the Great Lakes. I would really like to echo Mrs. Davidson's concerns about the Asian carp, because they are particularly important to Sault St. Marie.

One of the other invasive species is the sea lamprey. It has been enormously destructive since it invaded the Great Lakes. Sea lampreys attach to fish with a sucking disc and sharp teeth. I'm sure you're aware of some statistics, Mr. Minister. During its life as a parasite, each sea lamprey can kill 40 or more pounds of fish. They prey on all species of Great Lakes fish, such as lake trout, salmon, rainbow trout, and whitefish, to name but a few. This invasive species has had a serious and negative impact on the Great Lakes fishery. For example, before sea lampreys entered the Great Lakes, Canada and the United States harvested about 15 million pounds of lake trout in Lake Huron and Lake Superior annually. By the early 1960s, this catch was only 300,000 pounds, a dramatic drop.

I am wondering if you can outline the measures that DFO has taken to combat sea lamprey in the Great Lakes.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

The sea lamprey issue, as I understand it, has been studied extensively and probably goes back to the fifties in agreements between Canada and the United States. I know that the sea lamprey control program is delivered by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

There have been some positive things that have happened. The trout populations have increased in Lake Superior and parts of Lake Huron, and other lakes as well. We are seeing some positive benefits from some of the things we have been doing in that area. It is important to the recreational fishery, and we understand the dollar effects of that. It's a big industry, probably amounting to $8.5 billion.

We are making a binational effort to manage the sea lamprey, and we have seen a drastic reduction in sea lamprey over the course of the last little while—and certainly below the pre-control levels.

I don't know if one of the staff would have something to say on that. Siddika?

4 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Siddika Mithani

Again, there is a lot of research being done. There is a lot of prevention. The investment that Canada is making in the sea lamprey program is close to $8 million. There is extensive interaction and collaborative work being done with the U.S. on sea lamprey.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

That is very nice to hear.

Sticking with Sault St. Marie, after being elected, I had meetings with a number of folk around the community. To my understanding, DFO owns a number of marinas in Sault St. Marie and the area. In the past, it is my understanding that DFO has upgraded marinas and handed them over to municipalities and private entities. I am wondering if you might describe the process of divesting those sites, if that still in fact happens.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

Yes, divestiture is a work in progress, let's put it that way. Certainly, the way the process works, as I understand it, is that we see if there's an interest from the community, or a community of interest, to take over ownership of a marina or a wharf, whatever it may be. If there is an interest in that, DFO will upgrade the facility and turn it over to the municipality or harbour authority, whomever it may be, for about a dollar, I think it is. Then the new owners would look after that wharf or facility.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Are there criteria? I suppose it must be looked at in terms of whether you would take over a marina, or the dollar value the federal government would look at putting into these.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

I'll defer that to somebody who has more expertise.

4 p.m.

David Balfour Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Fisheries Management, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

We have a program to support the divestiture of non-core commercial harbours and all recreational harbours, so that the program can focus on those harbours that are critical to supporting the commercial fishing industry. It would mean that all recreational harbours that remain in the department's portfolio--and we have certainly divested quite a number of them in Ontario--are candidates and available for divestiture. The department would be quite open and willing to respond to any proposals to effect the transfer of the harbour to a municipality.

I would add that the government, in Budget 2008, invested $45 million in a multi-year program to support and facilitate the divestiture of harbours. That funding includes $20 million this year, the program's final year. The funding is available if there are projects that your municipality would want to bring forward.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Thank you, Mr. Balfour.

Thank you, Mr. Minister, and thank you, Mr. Chair.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you, Mr. Hayes.

Mr. MacAulay.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Thank you very much.

Welcome, Mr. Minister, and your staff. I understand you have an ambitious agenda, and I wish you all the best.

In question period we had a little chat about my concern that the idea to close the Quebec City and St. John's centres might not have been a recommendation that came up from the department. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but it would look to me as if the government had decided this would happen—which is every bit your right.

But listening to the response on French training, I understood that you have to ramp up the French training in order to meet the requirements. Or did I understand that incorrectly? I indeed could have. Also, I understand there are people within your department who are very concerned about proficiency in French. They are also concerned that Trenton and Halifax are not large enough to handle this.

I would like to know if you have a cost figure on what this transition is going to cost. You're going to have to absorb this in your department, which means there will be fewer dollars for all of this monitoring and science, and a lot of things that we need to do. I'd like you to elaborate on that.

Am I wrong to indicate that there are some great concerns in your department, or within the government, as to the proficiency levels in French and as to the accommodations?

Also, when will this happen? Is it all going to happen next spring? Will they both close at the same time?

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

Thank you, Mr. MacAulay.

Certainly, I would never ever suggest that you're wrong, but in this case you're not right.

4:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

It's happened.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

We're very serious about maintaining the security and safety of our mariners, and in no way would we ever consider anything that we thought would impact on the safety of mariners. I would never have approve of it, if it came to me and I thought otherwise.

We have a situation now, especially with today's technology and the direction that everything is moving, where we have to look at efficient ways of doing business, at continued efficiencies, at the same time as protecting safety. We think we can do this. We actually think it's going to be a better system because we'll have both groups working under one roof, and we'll be able to respond to situations that much more quickly. So we believe it's an improvement over the current system.

The language capabilities, I feel very secure about. We'll have the proper people in place to understand the languages presented to them. As the commissioner said earlier, he feels secure in that as well. We won't force it. If there's a language issue, we're not going to force it and move ahead if we don't have the capabilities there. We certainly will not do that. But we believe that we can have this in place by the spring of 2012, and feel fairly secure in the process.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Mr. Minister, you feel that you're ready to close both establishments at the same time and to move the people?

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

I said that we feel secure in moving forward, as we see it now, and that it looks like we'll be able to do that and not call into question language capability or raise safety concerns. We feel we're on track to do that, and we feel fairly comfortable it can be done by the spring of 2012.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

You also might have forgotten the costs involved—or do you have those figures? What costs are involved? What would it cost your department? It's your department that's going to have to pay for this internally; these aren't new dollars.