Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this motion regarding the report, “Safe and Well-Funded Small Craft Harbours: A Clear Priority”. I am pleased that the member from the Bloc brought forward this motion today.
I want to specifically address a number of things in the report because they are important factors in my own riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan. Earlier, the parliamentary secretary talked about the fact that small craft harbours in British Columbia are largely well managed. He is absolutely correct. However, I want to talk about some of the challenges.
The report talks about the economic impact that the small craft harbours have on our coastal communities. Certainly in my riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan we welcome the positive economic impact of the small craft harbours.
A range of activities happen at these harbours, including commercial fisheries, sport and recreational fisheries, and boating. We are a destination in Canada and in the Pacific northwest for recreational boaters. We have some of the finest coastline and islands which boaters can visit. Whether it is Protection Island or some of the other small islands, boaters can anchor and enjoy the beauty, or they can come into the harbours in Chemainus, Ladysmith, Maple Bay or Genoa Bay. We have a number of very fine harbours.
The diving in my area is known around the world. Over the last couple of years some appropriately and environmentally cleaned up vessels have been sunk. Divers come from all over the world to explore the seabed and look at some of the man-made artifacts.
Small craft harbours are an essential part of our economy. In the village of Cowichan Bay there is a vibrant small craft harbour and the town itself is built up around it. People come from Nanaimo and Victoria to spend a weekend in Cowichan Bay.
We understand the economic impact and the need to ensure that these small craft harbours remain economically viable.
The report talks specifically about the fact that in 2003, DFO commissioned a study to assess the economic impacts of the small craft harbour network of fishing harbours in British Columbia. According to the study, the economic activity related to its expenditures associated with the region's 101 fishing harbours for 2001-02 totalled $800 million: $500 million from commercial fishing, $200 million from marine recreation, and $100 million from other activities such as aquaculture, marine transport, et cetera.
The report indicates that the direct economic impacts of these expenditures were estimated at $485 million in annual gross domestic product, $245 million in annual labour income, which is wages plus benefits, and 6,135 person years of annual employment. The total impacts, including direct, indirect supplier, and induced consumer spending impacts, were even more important.
Mr. Boland, the regional director of strategic initiatives, Pacific region, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, appeared before the committee. I want to read some of his testimony into the record. From coast to coast to coast, small craft harbours are important, but I want to talk specifically about British Columbia.
Mr. Boland said:
B.C. has 27,000 kilometres of coastline...we have a total of 157 scheduled sites, of which 78 of those are harbours, core harbours. We have 54 harbour authorities who manage those 78 core sites.
He talked about the volunteer workforce of between 550 and 600 people, which includes harbour directors and those volunteers from the community who assist in harbour operations. When I was on the North Cowichan council, I was fortunate enough to sit on the harbour commission. I had an up-close view of how important the volunteers are for the operation of our small craft harbour.
Our harbour commission was made up largely of volunteers with some support staff from the North Cowichan council, who worked tirelessly in terms of overseeing the efficient management and function of the small craft harbour over which North Cowichan has responsibility. I understand how important these volunteers are to the ongoing operation.
Mr. Boland went on in his testimony to say:
The fishing industry in British Columbia has approximately 3,000 commercial fishing vessels, and in 2005, the landed value of B.C. commercial fishing was in the neighbourhood of $365 million.
That was in 2005, but in my own riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan we saw some really disappointing returns this year in the runs on the Cowichan River. So although commercial fishing has been a really important part of our economy, we have called on DFO to put a lot more attention on and effort into habitat, conservation, protection and enforcement.
When we talk about the importance of these numbers to our communities, we really need that kind of focus and attention. When we see the kinds of runs that we saw this year in the Cowichan River, which is an indicator river in British Columbia, it raises flags all over the province. We are hopeful that DFO will pay attention to the very serious issues that have been raised around some of these indicator rivers in British Columbia.
Mr. Boland went on to talk about the fact that there are some concerns. It is part of these concerns that I want to raise in the context of the debate that is happening in the House today. I have stated what the economic importance is to British Columbia. I have stated how important it is to the viability of some of our communities. I agree that divestiture, if it is done properly, is really important in terms of local community control. Again, I think the municipality of North Cowichan is a good example of how a municipality can take on and run with a divestiture, but there are some problems.
Mr. Boland raised a major concern about “enhancing the viability skills” of harbour authorities “so they can raise enough revenue to keep themselves going, to keep themselves independent”.
He then said:
A second issue is that we find a growing pressure on our waterfront. A lot of people want to move to British Columbia. The communities that support the harbours want to look at waterfront land as a better tax base, so they're looking at different kinds of opportunities on the waterfront. And one of the big pushes, from our perspective, is to get our harbour authorities more involved in community integrated planning to generate better strategic planning over time, so they don't get overrun by interests selling land and building condos right next door to a bustling harbour.
We also have first nations issues unique to British Columbia. We're involved with the B.C. treaty process in Indian Affairs to have them consider the 15 harbours that front first nations communities. These communities are not just commercial fishing harbours, they are often the ingress and egress of the community. There are no roads, so the only way in and out is by the harbour...We think the harbour is an economic opportunity for first nations, so it should be part of the treaty process.
Mr. Boland went on to talk about climate change. He said:
Climate change is having an impact on our harbours, so we need funding to take a look at how to better design or facilitate the changes of our commercial fishing fleet as they move from fishing for salmon to other species such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, and those types of fisheries that require larger boats.
In terms of climate change, Mr. Boland was talking specifically about the way species are shifting and how we are seeing some species in our waters that we have not seen in the past, how the fishing season is moving because of warming water temperatures, and a number of other factors.
However, there is another impact on small craft harbours. That has to do with changing water levels and storm damage. Over the last couple of years, we have seen some of the most severe windstorms in B.C.'s history. That kind of storm damage, which many argue is attributable to climate change, needs to be factored into the kind of money that is required in order to maintain small craft harbours on an ongoing basis.
There are a couple of other points in the issues that Mr. Boland addressed around the importance of small craft harbours. He talked about some of the first nations small craft harbours that are literally the lifeline to the outside world. In many communities there are no roads and in some no airports. The only way people can get in and out of their communities is via boat. These small craft harbours in first nations communities are a lifeline to the outside community, but they are also an economic opportunity. It is important to factor that into any equation here.
In some of our communities, the small craft harbour also serves as the point where medical evacuations can happen. For example, on Thetis and Kuper Islands, which are serviced by ferries, when the ferries do not run there needs to be a point at which a medical evacuation can happen in the off-hours. For a while, there was a challenge in finding a place where a medical evacuation boat could have a slip to deal with medical emergencies, on Kuper Island in particular.
Therefore, small craft harbours in many of our communities are a vital link for people who have a medical emergency. It is important that we continue to talk about how much these small craft harbours mean in many of our smaller communities.
One of the things we talked about is divestiture. I want to reference the minority report that the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore raised when the committee tabled its report. I want to read for members part of his position, because I think this is an important element when we are talking about divesture. He said:
It is the NDP's position that any divestiture of wharves or small craft harbours must have financial and human resources in place long before the divestiture takes place.
Furthermore, the NDP maintains that the federal government must continue to be a partner in supporting small craft harbours and wharves--even after the divestiture of a small craft harbour...to local harbour authorities. The federal government should continue to remain a partner after the divestiture to assist with necessary maintenance like dredging or critical repairs to infrastructure. Fishermen and SCH boards simply cannot afford to pay or raise money for critical infrastructure improvements. Fishermen and coastal communities should not be required to shoulder the burden for critical infrastructure improvements to small craft harbours. In so many remote regions of our country, small fishing harbours are indispensable and remain critical infrastructure for economic development opportunities in our coastal communities.
I absolutely support the call of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for this ongoing partnership when divestiture happens. As I said earlier, divestiture is an important tool in having local control over a valuable resource in our communities, but many of our small communities simply cannot afford the ongoing repair and maintenance once the terms of the divestiture are over.
I want to turn briefly again to the North Cowichan municipal Chemainus small craft harbour. A couple of years back, an expansion was required. Again, of course, when we are talking about revenue generation anyone of us who has written a business plan knows that we have to crunch the numbers. What happened in Chemainus was that they needed to extend the docks in order to have the revenue generation to maintain the viability of the facility.
Representatives of the municipality of North Cowichan sought other partners to assist in this dock expansion. They were over $300,000 short. They were fortunate in that they made an application to the Department of Western Economic Diversification and ended up with the $300,000-plus required to take on the whole package, but it was such a complicated process.
In regard to that, let us look at smaller municipal councils. In many of our smaller communities, where these small craft harbours are, there are small municipal councils that do not have extensive engineering capacity. North Cowichan does have extensive engineering capacity, but many of them do not. Many first nations communities do not have that kind of engineering capacity or the environmental capacity.
The expansion in Chemainus was extremely complicated, of course, because there was dredging and it had to happen at certain times of the year in terms of fisheries. It was an enormous undertaking for a small municipal council.
It is an example of where that partnership with DFO and the Ministry of Transport is absolutely essential. That financial partnership and that expertise partnership are absolutely essential in order to make sure that those small craft harbours are operating in the most environmentally friendly, responsible and sustainable way. This is an important role that the federal government can continue to play.
Other members in the House have touched on a couple of these issues, but I want to raise the issue of volunteers once again. I spoke about the fact that the harbour commission members at North Cowichan council were all volunteers. These men and women put in countless hours.
This issue did come up before the standing committee, which talked about the need to address “volunteer fatigue and the need for additional support within Harbour Authorities”. I want to raise a couple of points from the report, which stated:
Harbour Authorities are typically non-profit, locally controlled organizations which operate and manage harbours. According to DFO, they are an efficient way of offering services, strengthening public investment and providing opportunities for communities to participate fully in the planning, operation and maintenance of harbour facilities.
I would agree with all of that. Harbour authorities are a way to make sure that the ongoing local operation is connected to the community plans and to the vision that the community has for itself. In many of our communities that are not so remote, such as Chemainus, Ladysmith and Cowichan Bay, these small craft harbours are right in the middle of our town centres. It is important that the local communities have some control over those facilities and that they are integrated into the community planning.
However, the report raised a couple of concerns around what is happening with volunteers. It stated:
For a few years now, these volunteers have experienced frustration due to insufficient budgets to maintain the harbours; increased complexity in harbour management; the difficulty of recruiting new volunteers; and, apprehension regarding the responsibilities and liability related to management of deteriorating facilities.
Testimony from the report stated:
“Volunteers are experiencing frustration. They are physically and morally affected by the present situation. They have given a lot to their community, and when they see their fishing harbour deteriorate from year to year for lack of funding, they become discouraged”.
Again, I know how many hours many of these volunteers invest in what is often a love for them. They have a passion for their small craft harbours. Either they are fishermen or recreational boaters, or they are recreational sport fishers or divers. Whatever their background is, they bring that passion to making sure that their small craft harbour stays viable for their ongoing use and for the use of their children and grandchildren.
In my community we are very fortunate, because we are not facing the same situation as other communities around deterioration, but I know that the volunteer hours people put in do wear them out. I think we need to look at how we support those volunteers, whether it is with infrastructure to help them coordinate their meetings or in making sure they have opportunities to go to meetings. In British Columbia, the association of small craft harbours has regular meetings where volunteers get to participate, learn about good ideas and gain support. It really is important that we look for ways to support the volunteer activity that happens in this country around small craft harbours.
The last issue I want to turn my attention to is the development of new small craft harbour infrastructure in Nunavut. The standing committee's report states:
Significant increase[s] in economic spin-offs in terms of employment and capacity building are expected to emerge from the development of the territory's fish harvesting, processing and marketing sectors. Without functional harbours however, this will likely not happen.
The report goes on to talk about the fact that over a number of years reports that have been generated have talked about the importance of harbour infrastructure for Nunavut. What is actually being looked at is fishing harbour infrastructure in seven small communities, including Pangnirtung.
I had the good fortune to be in Pangnirtung last summer. We were looking at a number of factors in Pangnirtung, but one thing we did was look at the small craft harbours up there. Of course in the north the conditions are substantially different than they are in my part of the country on Vancouver Island. Although we have serious tidal issues and we have good tidal swings in my area, we do not have the kinds of tidal swings they have in the north and we certainly do not have to deal with the ice conditions.
The investment in small craft harbours in the north seems like it needs that attention. When we are talking about economic development and opportunities for people in the north to not only maintain their sovereignty but also to expand their livelihood, it would seem like a good investment.
In conclusion, I want to thank the member from the Bloc for bringing this motion forward today. I think it is an important debate to have in this House as we recognize the importance of these small craft harbours in our communities, not only as economic or recreational links but often as the safety link, the link to ferries and to other communities that simply do not have road infrastructure.
I would encourage all members in the House to support this motion. I hope the government will follow through and make the kinds of investments that are needed in small craft harbours in order to keep their viability in our country.