That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) take meaningful steps to address the issue of abandoned and derelict vessels within six months of this motion being adopted by the House; (b) recognize the requirement for the prohibition against the abandonment of a vessel through potential amendments to any relevant legislation; (c) incorporate an educational component within the government’s strategy to address the issue of abandoned vessels in order to inform vessel owners on the risks and consequences of vessel abandonment; (d) improve vessel owner identification by considering ratifying the International Maritime Organization’s International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007, and by considering widening the scope of the Canadian Register of Vessels; and (e) create a mechanism for government to assist in the removal of an abandoned vessel where its presence creates an economic burden for a community.
She said: Mr. Speaker, to start, I would like to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Châteauguay—Lacolle, for seconding the motion. I look forward to hearing her perspective on this issue later on.
I certainly do not need to make much of an argument to the residents of South Shore—St. Margarets about why the issue of abandoned and derelict vessels is so important. Indeed, many of my hon. colleagues, and certainly stakeholders in our communities, share my 400-tonne vessel-sized headache, which just does not seem to go away with Advil.
However, for many of my colleagues here, and Canadians who may not be familiar, I would like to paint a quick picture of the problems with abandoned and derelict vessels, why the House should call on the government to take a leadership role on this issue, and what I think makes the most sense in moving forward. I look forward to the debate and the discussions to follow.
Finally, I will be asking for my colleagues support on passing this motion in the House.
Our coastlines and waterways support us and our livelihoods in so many ways. We rely on them for food, resources, jobs, economic return, tourism, recreation, and finding a sense of peace and home. As well, as with any asset, people do their best to manage it in a sustainable way. Large abandoned and derelict vessels affect the ability of our coastal communities to support these important activities.
Abandoned or derelict vessels can also be a navigational or environmental hazard, putting our marine environment and people's safety at risk. While some reactive mechanisms are currently in place to deal with these cases, we can do much more in terms of prevention.
Also, there is a huge financial and social cost. Municipalities and port operators have been burdened with significant challenges due to the presence of such vessels, including the inability to sell land, expenses related to monitoring and inspecting of the vessel or the site, lost revenue from docking fees, lost revenue from their hindrance on tourism activities, and, as well, public outcry.
Currently, this is a burden that falls completely on those who have the misfortune of owning a property on which a vessel is abandoned. As the mayor of Shelburne, Nova Scotia recently said, “We didn't ask for it, we didn't want it; [but now] we have it”.
To illustrate this, between 2011 and 2015, the Government of Nova Scotia spent over $12 million to remove the MV Miner, an abandoned vessel it did not own, from a provincially protected area. Our lack of legislation was abused, and an incredibly expensive bill was footed by taxpayers. That was $12 million that could have been spent on education, health care, or roads. Instead, because of a lack of legislation, it was left to the taxpayer to pick up the bill.
If our federal government can in a responsible way help to lighten some of that load, we should. We can and should create mechanisms through which taxpayers are not left footing the bill at the end of the day, by making sure that there are strong incentives to safe and responsible vessel ownership, and penalties to those who violate these regimes.
The responsibility for an abandoned and derelict vessel has been batted around for years among all levels of government, but now is the time for the federal government to step up and take a leadership role. While this is certainly not a new problem, it has consistently proven to be an incredibly challenging one. Many people in coastal regions across Canada understand it too well.
To address this problem in a comprehensive way, we need co-operation and input among all levels of government and among different departments at the federal level. We need to harness the knowledge and experience of port owners and operators, municipalities, and other stakeholders, who know the challenges well. We need to make sure that experts, research, and evidence are leading the development of this framework.
Simply put, there are no easy solutions to this issue. Nothing will make these vessels go away overnight. However, there are several steps that can be taken to make that sure this is less of a problem for our children.
Canada needs more tools in our tool belt to deal with abandoned and derelict vessels. To that end, I am moving Motion No. 40, which contains several different components that if enacted can help deal with this problem.
First, we need action. This not a new problem, but it has not yet been dealt with. People in coastal communities have been waiting long enough for a resolution to this issue. I have been heartened by our Minister of Transport's strong mandate for marine safety, and by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard's commitment to environmental protection. Solving the problem of abandoned and derelict vessels is a piece of this larger puzzle. Now is the right time. I am asking the government to act within six months of this motion being adopted in the House.
Second, we need to create legislative or regulatory penalties for abandonment. Currently, the bulk of the financial burden experienced from an abandoned vessel falls on the owner of a facility or property where the vessel is located. The responsibility rests with the property owners to pursue the vessel owners in court, often to varying success and at their financial expense. We could address that by making the abandonment of a vessel an offence in legislation, and prosecution could be done by law enforcement. Simply put, we need rules with more teeth. Taxpayers have been on the hook for millions of dollars in cleanup fees. It is time to be proactive and not simply reactive.
Third, we need to ensure that vessel owners understand their responsibilities. Though the issue of abandoned and derelict vessels is well known to many vessel owners and the general public, the complex regulatory framework surrounding it is not. If changes to this framework are made as proposed in this motion, an educational component should be included to ensure that people who want to follow the rules can do so easily, as most Canadians will and do. One key problem in addressing the issue of abandoned vessels is that the owners are often unknown. The Canadian Register of Vessels only includes those vessels that are designated for commercial purposes. Many older large vessels are purchased for salvage, which is not deemed a commercial purpose, and are subsequently abandoned if a salvage operation is projected to be unprofitable. Expanding the scope of the register could be a way to improve vessel owner identification. Past Transport Canada reports have recommended that Canada sign on to the International Maritime Organization's international convention on the removal of wrecks and its accompanying actions to address this issue. By adopting this convention, owners of very large vessels that are in Canadian waters would have to take preventative steps to ensure they have the resources available to dispose of vessels safely and responsibly.
Transport truck owners have to register and insure their vehicles. When a truck is no longer useful, an owner cannot just leave it abandoned at the side of the road for someone else to deal with. Therefore, why are we allowing people to do it with vessels? There are 59% of vessels on the large vessel register that are over 30 years old. By following the recommendations of the International Maritime Organization's international convention on the removal of wrecks, we will help ensure that these vessels do not end up abandoned down the road or, more precisely, down the river.
However, we cannot ignore the problems we have now. Transport Canada estimates that there are currently over 600 abandoned and derelict vessels across Canada. There are many communities that have current and very real economic burdens from the inadvertent presence of abandoned vessels in their harbours and on their shores. Under the current regime, the federal government can only step in if a vessel is an environmental hazard or if it is blocking a navigable waterway. Currently if an abandoned ship sinks at a wharf, the Coast Guard can go in, raise it, and clean it. However, if it sinks again, there is no responsibility for anyone to step in and help because it has been deemed clean.
The final component of Motion No. 40 would call on the government to widen the scope of situations in which the federal government could intervene and aid in the removal of abandoned vessels.
As I mentioned earlier, we are spending millions of dollars on cleanup and salvage. Would it not be better to deal with these vessels before they become an environmental or economic issue?
The South Shore—St. Margarets is the most beautiful coastline in the world, and I know that many of my coastal colleagues feel the same way about their communities. Is it not time for us to step up and make sure that they are protected for all to enjoy, make their living from, and get a sense of peace that only being by the water can provide? Protecting marine life and a marine way of life is something we have a responsibility to do.
I am very much looking forward to the debate on this issue and to hearing ideas, comments, and feedback from my hon. colleagues on both sides of the floor. I feel confident that with the support and insights of the House, members of Parliament, and stakeholders across the country we can address the issue of abandoned and derelict vessels in ways that suit the needs of our diverse coastal communities. This is an issue that we can truly all come together on to do what is right for coastal Canada. Our coastlines are a source of pride and economic opportunity, and our policies should safeguard them and the livelihoods of those who depend on them.
This is a great opportunity for the federal government to take leadership on what has long been a thorn in the side of coastal communities across Canada. To that end, I am asking my hon. colleagues to support Motion No. 40.