Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to the committee.
I would like to provide the committee with an overview of how Western Canada Marine Response operates within the current regime, and then provide our input on the proposed amendments.
Western Canada Marine Response, or WCMRC, is the only Transport Canada-certified marine response organization on Canada's west coast. On average, we respond to 20—typically small—spills each year. We have successfully responded to oil spills for more than 40 years, starting in 1976 as Burrard Clean. We became Canada's first certified response organization under the amended Canada Shipping Act in 1995.
Our mandate under that act is to ensure that there is a state of preparedness in place when a marine spill occurs, and to mitigate its impacts on B.C.'s coast. This includes the protection of wildlife, economic and environmental sensitivities, and the safety of both responders and the public. Our mandate covers 27,000 kilometres of B.C. coastline out to 200 nautical miles from shore, meaning our work is often extremely remote.
WCMRC is certified by Transport Canada as a response organization under Canada's marine oil spill preparedness and response regime. Transport Canada sets the response planning standards, and WCMRC must demonstrate that we meet those standards to maintain our certification. WCMRC has been exceeding the Transport Canada-recommended response standards over the last 10 years, with an average response time of approximately 60 minutes in the Lower Mainland.
Canada has a polluter-pay model for spill response, and WCMRC is an industry-funded organization with more than 2,300 members. Membership is mandatory for vessels of a certain size calling on Canadian ports, as well as for oil-handling facilities receiving or shipping oil across their docks. Members are required to pay an annual preparedness fee to ensure that they receive WCMRC's response services, including equipment and supplies, in the event that they pollute.
WCMRC's fees cover our annual operating costs. They do not cover the costs WCMRC incurs when responding to a spill, which as per Canada's Marine Liability Act must be paid by the polluter. Profits earned by WCMRC from a spill are either reinvested in the organization or used to offset future operating costs and lower fees.
With regard to our planning, and to help plan and prepare for spills on Canada's west coast, WCMRC has developed a coastal mapping program that gathers existing data to identify coastal sensitivities, including ecological, cultural and economic resources. Our field teams then ground-truth that data and develop protection strategies for these at-risk resources.
These strategies, called geographic response strategies, are entered into the mapping application, which catalogues the logistical, environmental and operational data for each GRS. In the early hours of an incident, this tool is used by our response teams to geolocate GRSs and gather the data required to implement them. This allows for the most efficient deployment of response resources, maximizing coastal protection, reducing response times and minimizing risk.
The coastal mapping program was founded on a partnership with coastal communities. Coastal and first nations communities can get involved in the spill response planning through a number of avenues, including providing data and hosting equipment packages.
WCMRC has developed more than 400 of these GRSs for the Salish Sea.
We support the federal government's oceans protection plan, and we share the government's commitment to improving marine safety, engaging in responsible shipping and protecting Canada's marine environment. We understand the importance of doing this in partnership with indigenous communities.
The proposed changes to the Canada Shipping Act further clarify the powers and authority of the Canadian Coast Guard to protect Canada's coast from environmental damage. We support these changes and believe strong coast guard leadership during an incident is essential.
The proposed changes to the Marine Liability Act are in line with changes first proposed by the tanker safety expert panel in 2013. By removing per-incident limits and improving the Coast Guard's ability to access funds, the proposed amendments help to modernize how the fund operates.