Thank you very much, Madam Chair. It's always a pleasure to be in front of this committee, which works very efficiently. I know I've kept it busy over the past two years passing quite a bit of transport-related legislation, so I thank it for its very efficient operations.
I'm pleased to speak about Bill C-64, the wrecked, abandoned or hazardous vessels act, legislation that will help us protect and preserve the health of Canada's marine ecosystems and the safety of the waterways on which our economy depends.
This is the result of a joint effort. The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc and I are supported by officials from Transport Canada and Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard. I'm glad that many of the officials are with me today.
Abandoned and wrecked vessels left in our waterways are a serious problem. They can pose safety, environmental, economic, and social risks, and they certainly are a long-standing and growing source of frustration for many shoreline communities.
Proper remediation of these problem vessels can be complex and costly, and up to now the financial burden has often fallen on Canadian taxpayers. It is estimated there are hundreds of these vessels in Canadian waters, ranging from small pleasure craft to large commercial vessels. Some are very problematic; others are less so. We must take action with a risk-based approach, or the challenge will only increase.
The vast majority of vessel owners act responsibly and dispose of their vessels properly; however, some owners see abandonment as a low-cost, low-risk option. This legislation will change that.
The legislation before you addresses the issue in a holistic way and fills the gaps in the existing federal legislative framework.
Up to now, the federal government has only had the authority to address some of the negative effects of abandoned or wrecked vessels, but not the vessel itself. The government has generally also lacked the ability to take proactive action in those situations to avoid placing a burden on taxpayers.
There are other gaps, as well. There is nothing in law today that generally prohibits an owner from abandoning their vessel. There are no requirements for vessel owners to carry wreck removal insurance, and insufficient authorities to order vessel owners to address their hazardous vessels or wrecks.
When a car reaches the end of its useful life, we don't accept owners leaving it by the side of the road for someone else to deal with. This should not be acceptable with vessels either. Our waterways should not, and cannot, be treated as disposal sites for junk vessels.
This is why we have introduced Bill C-64. Let me explain how it will work.
The proposed legislation would make vessel owners clearly liable for any costs incurred in the course of removing or remediating a wreck. This is critical to ensuring that accountability lies with the owner and not the general public. In 2007, the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks established such a regime, and this bill gives the Nairobi convention force of law in Canada. On September 21, 2017, the Minister of Foreign Affairs tabled the convention in the House of Commons.
The convention sets international rules on the rights and obligations of vessel owners, coastal states, and flag states with respect to wrecks. It also provides state parties with a global regime governing liability, compulsory insurance, and direct action against insurers. By acceding to and implementing this convention, Canada would ensure that vessel owners would be held liable for locating, marking, and, if necessary, removing any wreck resulting from a maritime accident and that would pose a hazard.
Furthermore, the proposed legislation would also extend these requirements to all Canadian waters. Owners of vessels that are of 300 gross tonnage or more would be required to have insurance or other financial security to cover the costs related to their removal if they become wrecked.
This legislation will also address irresponsible vessel management in a number of ways. It will prohibit abandonment, allowing vessels to become wrecks, leaving a vessel adrift for more than 48 hours without working to secure it, or leaving vessels in very poor condition in the same area for more than 60 days without consent. These are the kinds of vessels most at risk of becoming abandoned or wrecked.
Another important aspect of the bill is that it enables the federal government to address problem vessels before they become even greater problems with higher costs, including by providing the ability to direct owners to take actions. When owners don't act, the federal government would be authorized to take any measures deemed necessary to address all types of hazards posed by abandoned, dilapidated or wrecked vessels, and the owner would be liable for costs. This part would be led by the Canadian Coast Guard.
The proposed legislation also consolidates existing provisions that deal with wrecks and salvage in one place by incorporating existing Canada Shipping Act, 2001 provisions that pertain to the International Convention on Salvage, 1989, as well as the receiver of wreck. Several important amendments have been made to the long-established and critical function of the receiver of wreck to continue to protect and preserve the rights of owners of found wrecks, as well as the rights of salvors.
This bill has teeth. It would establish an enforcement regime that authorizes the issuing of administrative monetary penalties, establishes regulatory offences and sets out a penalty regime that is intended to deter non-compliance. The penalties are higher than in other marine legislation, to provide a deterrent that reflects the high costs of addressing these vessels. Enforcement of this new legislation will be shared between my department, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. This sharing of responsibilities takes advantage of the distinct roles, mandates and capacities of both departments.
I want to stress that this proposed legislation is one element of a comprehensive national strategy to address abandoned and wrecked vessels that this government announced as part of the larger oceans protection plan in November 2016. The strategy includes a suite of measures to both prevent these problem vessels in the future and address those that litter our waterways now.
We are developing a national inventory of abandoned, dilapidated, and wrecked vessels, along with a risk assessment methodology to rank these vessels according to the risks that they pose. This will allow for decision-making based on evidence.
In 2017, the government launched two funding programs to support the cleanup and removal of smaller high-priority legacy abandoned vessels and wrecks. These programs will help get these boats out of the water, provide funding for educating vessel owners about their responsibilities and disposal options, and support research that will help improve boat recycling and design.
To address the costs of abandoned and wrecked vessels, large and small, in a sustainable way over the longer term, we're also looking at options to establish owner-financed remediation funds.
Our comprehensive strategy also includes improving vessel owner identification. We are currently working on improvements to large vessel registration, and working with provinces and territories to improve pleasure craft licensing.
We will continue to collaborate with provinces, territorial and municipal governments, indigenous groups, local and coastal communities, and stakeholders to implement the national strategy and the proposed legislation effectively.
Our coasts and waterways are the common heritage of all Canadians. They are crucially important to our environment, our communities, our economy, and our way of life.
To conclude, I would remind committee members of the unanimous adoption by the House of private member's motion M-40, which was tabled by my colleague the honourable member for South Shore—St. Margarets in the fall of 2016. It called for a comprehensive approach to dealing with the problem of abandoned and wrecked vessels. With this bill and the oceans protection plan's comprehensive national strategy, we are delivering on these commitments.
Thank you, Madam Chair.