Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in favour of Bill C-638, an act to amend the Canada Shipping Act. I want to express my thanks to the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan for her work on the problem of derelict vessels. This is a particular problem around Vancouver Island and in my riding, but also along all of our coasts and, increasingly, in the rivers and lakes across the country.
This is an important issue as more and more derelict vessels are being abandoned. While they may start out as something that people see simply as an eyesore, many go on to become hazards to safety or to the environment. The intention of Bill C-638 is to give the Coast Guard the regulatory power it needs to take action before derelict vessels become problems.
Municipalities, port authorities, regional and provincial governments all want to work with the federal government on an effective system that might include fines and the recovery of costs for removal, but, of course, that is beyond the scope of what a private member's bill can do. However, at the same time, Bill C-638 would preserve the principle that owners are responsible for the costs incurred in damages done by, or in cleanup and disposal of, abandoned vessels. It would not, as some Conservatives have argued, automatically transfer all those costs to the public. What the public does bear is the cost of inaction. Therefore, when these derelict vessels are neglected and ignored, they eventually end up costing all of us damage to our environment, possibly navigation and other safety hazards.
Ideally, Canada would create a derelict vessel removal regime similar to that of our neighbour in Washington state. In Washington state, there is a system that has a fee as part of the annual vessel registration, which helps pay, ultimately, for the costs of removal of derelict vessels. It also makes a single agency, the department of natural resources, responsible for administering the program.
Unfortunately, as I said just a moment ago, this is beyond what a private member's bill can do in the House, because that would require a royal recommendation. However, this bill is an important first step in providing a single agency, the Coast Guard, with the authority to deal with derelict vessels.
My predecessor, as the member of Parliament for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, Keith Martin, introduced a similar concept in his Motion No. 554 in June of 2010. This is not a new problem in my riding and one that my predecessor did his best to get the House to recognize. His motion simply expressed the principle that the House support efforts to deter the abandonment of vessels by imposing fines and a regime to make sure that cleanup costs were recovered from the registered owners. It is very consistent with the principles in this private member's bill.
I would also to commend the work of Sheila Malcolmson as chair of the Islands Trust in bringing attention to this problem of derelict vessels. I will say as an aside that she is someone who I hope will be joining us in the House of Commons after the election this fall as she is the NDP candidate in Nanaimo—Ladysmith.
The Islands Trust is a federation of local governments in the Salish Sea off the inner coast of Vancouver Island. It is an area that covers 450 islands and thousands of kilometres of sensitive and scenic coast. Ms. Malcolmson's advocacy resulted in the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities adopting four resolutions in its annual meetings in 2010. These call for action like that suggested in Bill C-638 to fill the gap in our existing regulatory regime.
Here is the problem Bill C-638 is really trying to address. Now Transport Canada is responsible for derelict vessels if, and only if, the abandoned vessel presents a navigational hazard. If such a vessel presents an environmental hazard, then the Coast Guard is responsible, and this presents the obvious problem of overlap, since derelict vessels can present both challenges. However, if there is no immediate navigation or environmental hazard, then no one is responsible. Therefore, derelict vessels that present no immediate hazard for navigation or to the environment may do so in the future as they deteriorate or as storms blow them around the environment. Clearly, leaving these derelict vessels in place does nothing to enhance the very important tourism industry in my riding.
Derelict vessels are problems at both ends of my riding, I have to say.
In the Gorge Waterway, community groups have spent years trying to restore the water quality after decades of industrial use. It is just on the edge of my riding and in an area that I share with the member for Victoria, who has also done a lot of work to try to deal with this problem of derelict vessels. I am happy to say that the Gorge Waterway is now swimmable for the first time in over 70 years and the salmon run has returned. Small numbers in that run so far and very vulnerable, but the salmon are back. Do we want to let derelict vessels undo all the hard work that has been done in this community to restore the water quality, the environmental quality and the salmon run in the Gorge Waterway?
At the eastern end of my riding is Tod Inlet, a beautiful fjord-like body of water with a very interesting ecology due to its great depth combined with very shallow waters at its mouth. This creates a very special environment indeed.
In 2012, more than 20 abandoned vessels were identified in this environmentally sensitive area. This is home, among other species, of B.C. spot prawns that are one of the very successful, sustainable, ocean-wide food sources in our region, again, threatened by derelict vessels.
Some of those have since been removed, but unfortunately, like the old hiker's adage where garbage attracts garbage, derelicts seem to attract derelicts. Somebody has dumped a boat and somebody else sees what a great spot to get away with the same thing.
This is especially true around Saanich Inlet when it is such a short distance from Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo, yet it is relatively secluded and so therefore easy for people to think they can get away with dumping a vessel there.
At the western end of my riding, the District of Sooke has been dealing with the issue of derelict vessels most recently at its January 12 council meeting. The council members, under the leadership of its new mayor, Maja Tait, agreed that they would write to the federal government to lodge a formal complaint about the lack of action in dealing with derelict vessels in the Sooke Basin.
Let me give an example of a challenge that just a single derelict vessel can present to local government. This example is the tugboat Florence Filberg that was built for the U.S. Army in 1944, a 38 metre long boat that served the U.S. Coast Guard for many years. The coast guard decided to sell the boat to Canadian owners and spent $40,000 cleaning up the vessel before selling it.
Unfortunately those Canadian owners moored it in the Sooke Basin and then abandoned it. In 2007, it broke loose from its moorings and wedged itself on a sandbar. Who is responsible for its removal when owners have disappeared? Here is where the legal problem arises which Bill C-638 would fix.
Sooke's jurisdiction of the municipality extends only to the land between high and low watermarks, not the sandbars in the harbour. The B.C. government is only responsible for derelicts that have been tied up to provincial docks.
The federal Coast Guard checked and said since the boat had been cleaned up, there was no environmental hazard. Transport Canada said that since it is on a sandbar, then there is no additional navigation hazard. There it sat for more than four years, an unsightly wreck in the middle of a beautiful harbour, but it also presented additional challenges.
One man actually died exploring this wreck in 2008 and arsonists, some suspect those whose view it was sitting in, tried to remove the vessel in 2009 by setting it on fire, leaving a burnt-out vessel with additional environmental hazards created by the fire.
It was finally removed in 2011 at a cost of over $100,000 in an ingenious deal that Sooke worked out as part of the construction of a new boat launch jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments. This was four years later, at a cost of $100,000 and the death of a citizen for a single derelict vessel. This is one that had previously been cleaned up, $40,000 spent by the coast guard cleaning up the environmental hazard.
I know I am going to run out of time very quickly, but I would say Bill C-638 takes the first step in solving the problem with derelict vessels in Canadian waters. It established that the Coast Guard is the responsible agency, responsible for move and cleanup, but also for finding those owners and making sure the previous owners are held responsible for the cost of abandoning their vessel.
In my riding this would help protect the environment. It would help protect marine safety. It would help protect fishing grounds and recreation. It would help protect the natural landscape and seascapes that are the basis of our very important sustainable tourism industry.
For that reason, I am a very strong supporter of Bill C-638. Once again, thank the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan for her very important work on this private member's bill.