Evidence of meeting #89 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was funding.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Catherine Blewett  Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Jeffery Hutchinson  Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Welcome back, everyone.

Before we get to the formal proceedings, I would like to take a moment to turn to our dear colleague, who returns to us in much better health. Welcome, Todd Doherty. It's good to have you back, sir.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Thank you, Chair. It's good to be back.

If I can, Mr. Chair, I just want to say thank you. I've probably said it a hundred times. I'll say it 1,000 more times. The notes, cards, and messages that we got from all sides of the House really, truly were uplifting. Mr. Beech's spouse reached out to my wife as well. Over the last two months, I truly felt like I was part of a team and family, and it came when we needed it the most, so thank you.

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Thank you, sir. We appreciate it very much. It is good to see you back.

Now, we go to the formal proceedings of the day. As you know, we normally only take this time to study supplementary estimates (C). However, this year, thanks to a law change back in June 2017, we are looking at two things, both the supplementary estimates (C) and the interim estimates. This interim estimates business is a whole new universe for us.

However, from a technical standpoint, yesterday, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons announced that Thursday, March 22, will be the final allotted day of the current period. Technically, that means that the estimates have been deemed to have been reported back to the House. That's already been done, so the votes won't be necessary. However, since he's here, why not hear from the person himself?

Since you're here, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee is studying the subject matter of supplementary estimates (C) 2017-18, votes 1c, 5c, and 10c, under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Coast Guard, as well as the subject matter of interim estimates 2018-19, votes 1, 5, and 10 under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well.

We will begin with our minister, Dominic LeBlanc. It's good to see you again, sir. Thank you for appearing before us today for this hour. You have up to 10 minutes.

8:45 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalMinister of Fisheries

Thank you, Mr. Chair. The pleasure is truly mine. I want to assure you of that.

I also want to join you, Chair, in saying how glad I am, Todd, to see you back in good health. I said to Todd that it's a hell of a way to lose weight. I thought your comments in the House of Commons yesterday, Todd, were very moving. It reminds us that we shouldn't wait for a difficult circumstance like that to befall a colleague and a friend to say and think those things. It's a chance for me to say publicly that I'm glad you're back and that you're healthy.

Mr. Chair, thank you for the invitation to, as you said, in very technical complicated terms, appear here on our departmental estimates.

As you can see, I am accompanied by the following members of DFO's senior management team and the Canadian Coast Guard: the deputy minister, Catherine Blewett, the commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, Jeffery Hutchinson, and the interim chief financial officer, Pablo Sobrino.

It's a pleasure to be here before your committee.

Allow me to take a quick moment to thank each and every one of you—the staff who work for our colleagues, members of Parliament, and also the committee staff—for what I think was terrific work done collectively on Bill C-55 on marine protection. I would note that a number of amendments in the end were incorporated in the legislation. I think it strengthened the bill, and I thank you for that important work.

I also want to thank you again, Mr. Chair, for the work you did in reviewing the 2012 changes to the Fisheries Act. Obviously, at the department we work closely with members of the committee, with provinces and territories, indigenous groups, and with industry stakeholders across the country to ensure that the concerns and points of view that were expressed were taken into account as we drafted our amendments to the Fisheries Act. Many of our proposed changes or amendments in Bill C-68 are obviously inspired by the study, Mr. Chair, that your committee did and the recommendations that accompanied it. Again—and I've said it publicly in the House—I hope and believe that the bill will be referred to the committee in the near future. I look forward, as do my colleagues in the department, to working with all of you if you have suggestions on how we can strengthen the legislation. We're obviously interested in that conversation, and I look forward to those exchanges as well.

Mr. Chair, today we're here to discuss our departmental spending plans. I will provide you and your colleagues with a brief financial overview of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard's 2017-18 supplementary estimates (C) and 2018-19 interim estimates before speaking to a few recent accomplishments of the department.

The supplementary estimates (C) provide the resources for the department to launch, for example, the fisheries and aquaculture clean technology adoption program. You'll remember that this was part of budget 2017, in which there was an element for aquaculture and for the department to address the last ice area within Canadian Arctic waters.

In terms of our 2018-19 interim estimates, our initial ask to start the fiscal year amounts to $577.4 million, which represents three-twelfths of our approved reference levels.

I am pleased to say that our 2018-19 funding includes the following: $263.5 million in new funding for the oceans protection plan; new funding over a quarter of a billion dollars for the department to continue carrying out its mandate; $58 million in new funding for the Atlantic Fisheries Fund for this fiscal year; and $41.5 million for the renewal and expansion of indigenous fisheries programs and initiatives.

There's no question that the demands on our oceans and marine resources are higher than ever before. Our government's historic investment of $1.5 billion in the oceans protection plan will make our coasts cleaner, safer, and better protected. In collaboration with other departments and indigenous and coastal communities, we're well on our way to developing a safer marine transportation system that strengthens Canada's economy while preserving and restoring marine ecosystems.

Through the oceans protection plan and in all of our work, our government recognizes the importance of indigenous peoples in protecting our coast, addressing climate change, and the designation of new marine protected areas.

I am very pleased to say that, by the end of 2017, Canada had surpassed its domestic goal under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to protect 5% of marine and coastal areas. In fact, we have protected 7.75% of marine and coastal areas.

This achievement was made possible thanks to sound science and to sincere engagement with Canadians, indigenous groups, industry leaders, and environmental organizations that care passionately about Canada's oceans.

Our nation's prosperity depends on making sure that the benefits of a growing economy are felt by more and more people, with good, well-paying jobs for middle-class Canadians.

This is especially important to the more than 76,000 Canadians working in commercial fishing, aquaculture, and processing jobs, many in coastal and indigenous communities. I don't have to tell the people around this table, who in many cases—perhaps with the exception of Mr. Miller—represent communities along Canada's coast and remote communities.

Often the fishery and related industries are in fact the only or the most significant source of economic activity in these communities. That's why our government is focused, for example, on the Atlantic fisheries fund, which I announced in 2017. It's designed to encourage new and innovative ways to harvest, process, and deliver high-quality, sustainably sourced fish and seafood.

Other provinces, notably the Province of Quebec, have reached out to me about the possibility of negotiating a similar fund for their fishing industries. Obviously, it will be a pleasure for me to work with Minister Lessard and our colleagues from Quebec on that initiative. We remain open to looking at every possible opportunity on all of Canada's coasts that would in fact improve economic opportunities for Canadians.

I will stop here, Mr. Chair.

In your opening remarks, you said that my colleague, the President of the Treasury Board, will be tabling the Main Estimates in April to ensure better alignment with Budget 2018.

This important change in timing is a key pillar of his estimates reform, which will ensure that we, as parliamentarians, are well-positioned to study documents that will be substantially more meaningful, relevant, and pertinent.

It would be a great pleasure to come back to talk to you about the Main Estimates at that time, if you wish.

Mr. Chair, with that, I wanted to leave some time for questions. I assume all of your questions will be very specific, technical questions related to supplementary estimates (C), and if that's the case, I said to Pablo that I would be happy to ask him or the deputy minister or the commissioner to answer. I will respond to the compliments that members will have with respect to my work as minister or the government's overall work, and those very technical questions on spending I could perhaps leave to the CFO or others.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Thank you, Minister. Your sincerity knows absolutely no boundaries, and I'm absolutely impressed.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thank you. I learned from you, Sir.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Yes, well, I don't know. You may not want to follow that path much longer.

Nevertheless, I do like to invite guests, as you know, which is apropos for our committee. I want to thank or welcome someone we alluded to earlier through the Minister, Mr. Marc Miller from Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs.

Is that correct?

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Miller Liberal Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

Exactly, so I represent a slight slice of the St. Lawrence—

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

You do represent a slice of the St. Lawrence.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Miller Liberal Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

—and the [Inaudible--Editor].

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

I'm sorry, what's that? Go ahead.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

The seaway itself, Marc, or would it be a piece of the coast along the seaway?

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Miller Liberal Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

I'd have to ask the CFO.

March 20th, 2018 / 8:55 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Yes, I'm sure his phone at small craft harbours is ringing off the hook.

Let's now go to our questions. As you said, you're eager for time, so let's go there right away.

Let's go to Mr. Morrissey for seven minutes, please.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Thank you, Chair.

Minister, I will begin on the complimentary side relating to the budget announcement of a significant increase in spending for small craft harbours, of $150 million. That's for this fiscal year—I thank my colleague for clarifying.

One of the questions I've heard from some is this: are you confident in small craft harbours' ability to get the $150 million of new money out in projects and spent within the fiscal period allocated, which I believe would begin April 1 and take us into the spring of 2019? I ask this because the $150 million new money is on top of the $140 million that was the normal part of the budget. Could you give this committee some assurances on that ability?

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thank you, Bobby, for the question.

In fact, the increase in funding for the fiscal year starting in a couple of weeks and next year, I think, was largely a result of the work of parliamentarians on all sides who spoke publicly and consistently about the backlog in deferred maintenance and the long list of projects, important in small communities, that weren't able to be funded. I just want to publicly thank colleagues who have been supportive of trying to get increased investments in this program.

I do share your concern, Bobby, around the importance of not lapsing the funding. If we ask the Minister of Finance for that significant investment, and then at the end of the financial year that starts in a couple of weeks, we have lapsed $30 million or $40 million, or whatever the amount, short of what we wanted to spend on the appropriate projects, it will be hard to make the argument in future years that.... Even this amount of money will not clear the entire backlog of work. I think it's a very significant start.

I have worked with the deputy minister and with regional directors general to identify quickly.... That work is done. The deputy minister and I had a long conversation about this when we were in western Canada last week. I am confident that this money will be invested in the best projects across the country, but I'm going to be keeping a very close eye, as will the deputy, on how quickly we're going to tender projects in the coming weeks, and ensuring that those projects are on track to be completed in a timetable where that money can be invested in the financial years that the Department of Finance and Minister of Finance gave the money to us. There won't be any money that lapses, and we will obviously be happy to work with all parliamentarians and receive their suggestions as to the priorities in their area, and work with local communities and harbour authorities to identify those projects.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Mr. Minister, one of the areas that's causing a lot of concern on the east coast as well as the west coast is the issue of protection of migrating whales. Members of the fishing community have taken steps to do what they can to remove rope and fishing gear from the waters at sensitive times. I'm concerned because, in this issue, it's how Canada is viewed in the international community. It's extremely important that Canada maintain a strong reputation in the international community so that it does not negatively impact the sale of our seafood across the world.

Could you speak briefly on the steps you're taking and the resources you're putting to that to ensure that whales are protected as they migrate through Canadian coastal waters in the Gulf of St. Lawrence primarily and the west coast?

9 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Your question, Bobby, I think is on the minds of many people in the industry. It's certainly on the minds of Canadians who we talked to across the country, not just in coastal areas. The tragic circumstances around the death of north Atlantic right whales on the east coast of Canada and in the United States last season is understandably something that is an enormous priority for our government and for provincial governments.

I'm happy to say for the fishing industry itself as well that from the beginning we have benefited from an enthusiastic and engaged co-operation from the fishing industry. They do not want to be seen as not taking every possible step to protect these highly endangered whales. We've had discussions, for example, with the snow crab industry in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The commissioner and I have spoken about trying to start the season a bit earlier—we're hopeful that this is possible—to allow the gear to be out of the water sooner.

We have looked at a whole series of measures around changing the gear. I hope to make some announcements in the coming days around piloting ropeless traps. If somebody had said to someone in your father or grandfather's generation, Bobby, that they'd be putting a crab pot at the bottom of the St. Lawrence and remotely detonating some buoy that would pop up to the surface with a GPS signal to identify the exact location of the trap, they wouldn't have believed it. That technology is available. It needs to be tested. We're going to be working with the industry, which is enthusiastic to test that as early as this year. We'll be in a position to see if we can apply those kinds of gear changes.

I have a final thing, Mr. Chair. I'm concerned about potential suspension of certification of the snow crab fishery in the Gulf. It's been reported in the media and the deputy tells me it was on CBC this morning. We've worked with the Marine Stewardship Council, and the deputy and others had meetings at a Boston seafood show a couple of weeks ago with the global leaders of the Marine Stewardship Council. I have concerns about the snow crab fishery in the Gulf and the potential suspension of its certification this season. That's why it's so important. This certification is important to Canadians, the industry, and to our exports, so it's important that we prevent and do everything we can to ensure that we don't repeat some of the tragic events that surprised everybody last summer. We'll work with the industry on that important issue as well.

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Thank you.

Mr. Minister, we took a bit of time off the top to discuss other things pertaining to the committee. I hope you don't mind. We will probably extend the meeting for about three to four minutes. Is that okay? Do you have the time to spare?

9 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

The cabinet meeting starts at 9:30. I'm not allowed to tell you what's on the agenda, but I need to tell you that I have to be at that meeting.

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Understood.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

I'm already going to arrive 15 or 20 minutes late. I'd be happy to come back at another time, but we were invited for an hour and I do have to leave at 9:45.

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Okay.

Let's go to Mr. Doherty for seven minutes, please.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I will remind our guests that we appreciate their being here.

We have a lot of questions to get through, so please keep your answers as short and concise as possible.

My first question is for Ms. Blewett. Could you please table with this committee at the earliest possible time the schedule and plan for how you're going to go about...with regard to the small craft harbours?