Yes, and the change is not that I'm here for 15 minutes.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and colleagues.
I know how important these meetings are. I always want to be available and will be available any time that I or my colleagues at the table, whom the chair generously introduced, can be here. I am happy to stay until 10:15 for 90 minutes with my colleagues, if it's the desire of the committee, to answer questions. If not, I'm also happy to come back at another moment. Really, I'm in your hands. We can extend that one hour by another half-hour if that's the desire of members, but we can play it by ear, Mr. Chair. As always, we're in good hands when we're in your hands.
I won't introduce my colleagues at the department. You, Mr. Chair, did that. I'd just point out that you have met many professional women and men here who serve in our department, and I continue to be inspired by their work every day that I have the privilege of working with them.
Terry Beech is new to his particular function. You know him as a colleague in the House of Commons. I feel privileged to have a British Columbian and somebody of his experience and his insight working with me. I was very happy when the Prime Minister made that decision. It's the first time we have the chance to appear together at a committee table like this, and I'm very happy to be here with Terry.
Also, Mr. Chair, you referred to Jeff Hutchinson as the commissioner of the Coast Guard, and this is his first appearance at a standing committee as the new commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard. The Prime Minister made that appointment some weeks ago. We lost a remarkable woman, Jody Thomas, who has gone to a role at the national defence department, where I'm sure she'll continue to serve in an extraordinary way, but we're very lucky that Jeff accepted the Prime Minister's offer and will be leading that critical national institution. Jeff, in your new role as commissioner you have more gold on the uniform, a few extra stripes, and it's the first time that he and I will be together at this table. I wanted to just highlight that.
Mr. Chair, we are here, as you noted, to talk about estimates and supplementary estimates (C). That's a fundamental part of the work of Parliament, so it's a privilege and it's something I take very seriously.
Before we talk a bit about supplementary estimates (C) and the main estimates and any issues that members would like to address in their questions, I want to thank you for the work you have done, particularly with respect to the review of the Fisheries Act. We have followed your work, and I know thousands and thousands of Canadians have followed your work very closely.
We have your report. Under the rules, we have a certain number of days to provide a government response. However, as I said to you the last time I was at this table, we recognize the urgency of moving properly but expeditiously. It is very much my hope that we will not take that full amount of time, so we are working diligently and expeditiously to respond to your recommendations in your report. My commitment is to try to get back to you and to Parliament in a period of time that is significantly less than the time that the rules might prescribe, because I think it recognizes and validates the great work that all of you have done.
I also note that you're going to be doing some work on marine protected areas, again something that is critical for us as a department and a government. I look forward to collaborating with you and I thank you for working on that.
I also note that Pat Finnigan would be happy to see your work on Atlantic salmon. In my province of New Brunswick that is critical, but also across the region, in every province including Quebec. It's an issue that economically and from an ecosystem perspective has huge potential and huge concerns.
Again, thank you for that work. We will take your report seriously and endeavour to carry on an ongoing dialogue. I'm certainly very happy with the work that all of you have done. For us, as a department and as a government, it's hugely valuable, and I want to thank you at this table.
I wanted to talk mainly about the department's spending plans. As I said, one of Parliament's essential duties is to hold the government to account for the taxpayer dollars it spends. That is a responsibility our department takes very seriously. There are never enough resources to do everything we would like to support Canadians.
Our department received voted appropriations from Parliament, and we strive to manage those funds in the best interests of Canadians and to provide an official accounting of how we use the money, as we are doing today. This is a tremendous privilege for us.
Supplementary estimates (C) contain key items that will allow us to deal with vessels of concern, notably, $17.7 million to address the threat of pollutants from the Kathryn Spirit near Montreal, and to undertake vessel life extension and refit work on the CCGS Hudson, the offshore oceanographic and hydrographic survey vessel of the Canadian Coast Guard.
Mr. Chair, in the main estimates 2017-18, a total of $2.2 billion is proposed. The main estimates total approximately $40.1 million less than last fiscal year. They reflect new funding announced in budget 2016, such as the investment in ocean and freshwater research in Canada. The slight reduction is due mainly to the conclusion of funding for temporary programs and planned funding variances for ongoing programs, and obviously if people want specific details on any of these we're happy to provide them. The chief financial officer and my colleagues at the department would do so.
As members of this committee know, our government has made a historic investment in aquatic sciences. I talked about this at this table the last time we were here; it was in this very room, actually. It's the largest investment in over a generation. Trevor and his colleagues at the senior level of the department have been doing a fantastic job at building what I hope will be world-class scientific capacity from the investment that Parliament gave us in aquatic sciences.
As an example, Mr. Chair, of the tremendous value we place on science, we hope and believe the $197-million allocation of last year's budget over five years can rebuild the ocean and freshwater science capacity of the department. It will strengthen evidence-based decision-making and also establish Canada's scientific leadership on a global stage.
We are well into the process of hiring 135 new biologists, oceanographers, and other highly skilled scientific staff. Their work will help us better understand Canada's aquatic ecosystems and what we can do to protect them. Re-establishing our capacity for science and research is going to serve all Canadians because the more we understand our oceans and ecosystems, the better placed we are to protect them and create sustainable economic opportunities.
It's not only about investing, for example, in scientific capacity for pure research in and of itself, which has a lot of merit; it's also about, as you know as members of Parliament better than anyone, making the right decisions and managing public resources for the economic and social future of the country, because so many of the communities that we represent at this table depend on the successful ecosystem management of these resources for, frankly, their successful economic future as well. We recognize the link there.
Colleagues will also know the Prime Minister announced in November—I was doing an announcement on the opposite end, Mr. Chair, in your province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and you were there with us that evening—what we believe is also a very significant investment in ocean protections of $1.5 billion to create a world-leading marine safety system. Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, and Fisheries and Oceans will obviously benefit from this investment, but the main beneficiaries we hope will be Canadians, the environment, and the Canadian economy. We think there will be far-reaching benefits to this investment.
The Coast Guard is an institution that Canadians care deeply about. It needs to be strengthened. It needs to be rebuilt. The women and men who serve in the Coast Guard do so in remarkable circumstances, with great courage and dedication, and I think we owe it to them collectively to give them the most modern, well-equipped, forward-looking institution that we can build for and with them. We think that this investment will be a key part of that. I will conclude here, because I want to have a chance for us to exchange and have dialogue after the chief financial officer gives some precise and brief comments.
Indigenous reconciliation for us is also a key priority. The Prime Minister said it. Other ministers have said it. Colleagues in Parliament in every corner of the House of Commons have talked about this, as well as in the Senate. We are really trying to up our game as a department and as a government in how we build a day-to-day, hour-by-hour relationship with indigenous peoples.
Our department is very much at the front line of managing one aspect of the federal relationship with indigenous peoples on all three coasts, but this needs to be nourished and strengthened and renewed. We think that these increased investments, including the oceans protection plan, will allow the Canadian Coast Guard to better partner with indigenous coastal communities.
I look to my colleagues from British Columbia, who see this reality in a way that I'm beginning to learn about. They are often the first responders, and these indigenous coastal communities in British Columbia are the best examples.
They inhabit a rugged, remote coastline. I had the privilege of meeting with representatives of the Heiltsuk Nation, who responded to the completely unacceptable circumstance that happened near Bella Bella with the tugboat and the spill of diesel fuel. The best way we can serve Canadians and protect marine ecosystems is to better partner with many of these communities. I hope and believe that a good portion of this investment will go a significant way to doing exactly that.
By way of conclusion, our department is an economic department for the Government of Canada. We make decisions hopefully in partnership with the fishing industry, with other Canadians, and with indigenous peoples to encourage and improve economic growth for Canada. We're also an environmental department, with huge responsibilities as stewards of Canada's oceans to better manage marine ecosystems and to provide the services and the remarkable work that the Canadian Coast Guard can offer Canadians and our partners globally.
Those are three areas we think about and worry about every hour of every day that we have the privilege of holding these jobs.
It will be a privilege for us to answer your questions and continue to work with all of you as we make an effort to contribute to something that Canadians care deeply about.
Now, with your permission, Mr. Chair, I'm going to ask the chief financial officer to provide details.
Then I'm happy to continue the questions.
Tony, do you want to...?