Alistair speaks on derelict and abandoned vessels

    Mr. Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am really pleased to stand today to speak to the motion as a proud representative of a coastal community on Vancouver Island. I would like to thank the member for South Shore—St. Margarets for bringing it forward.

     This motion is a good step in the right direction as it certainly does encourage the government to create a mechanism to assist in the removing of abandoned vessels. As we all know, the NDP has worked on this issue for many years now and my colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith has tabled Bill C-219 which I think will take the real action that is needed to solve this problem.

    There are so many different stakeholders involved in this issue and many members of the House are involved, but most importantly, it is of real significance to members who are lucky enough to represent coastal communities, but even members who have large lakes or rivers in their riding, because wherever there is a standing body of water that is navigable by a vessel, that body of water is in danger of having abandoned vessels left in it.

    I have worked on this issue for many years in my riding when I was previously a constituency assistant to Jean Crowder, the former member of Parliament for Nanaimo--Cowichan, and it is something that does not seem to go away. So I am really glad to see the House taking this issue much more seriously than in previous years.

    My riding of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford is home to a long stretch of Vancouver Island's coastline, both on the east coast and on the west coast. There are places where there are many abandoned, derelict, and half-sunken, listing boats that can easily go down in a storm.

    In fact, in 2014, we had the story of the SS Beaver II, which basically rolled over and sank in Cowichan Bay. It had been identified as a hazard for many months previously and lo and behold, the thing sank, not to much surprise.

    Before that, residents of Cowichan Bay had to deal with the Dominion, a trawler that was basically towed to Cowichan Bay and left there for five full years. It was left there so long that thieves stole fuel from it, started doing damage to the boat, it was listing until finally it became such a concern and there was such a concerted effort from the community, that we finally had the Coast Guard come and take the vessel away.

    It is an old problem. It is one that seems to be getting worse. There is a growing number of abandoned vessels on Canada's coasts and boats are getting older every year. So this is a problem that gets worse over time. The longer we leave this problem, the higher the costs of taking care of the problem will and the increased number of vessels we will have to deal with.

    Transport Canada has conducted some surveys on the breadth of the issue and has a list of over 600 abandoned vessels of various types and sizes, but I am sure the actual number is much higher now and is expected to go up.

    Furthermore, not every municipality has had the chance to respond. In British Columbia, the last report listed 245 vessels, but that was only from the municipalities that bothered to respond.

    There have been a number of proposals that have come forward in the House in previous years. In 2010, Keith Martin, the Liberal member of Parliament from Vancouver Island moved a motion for the government to strengthen legislation in dealing with derelict vessels and also to impose penalties to recover the costs of cleanup from registered owners.

    In the 41st Parliament, Jean Crowder moved two bills, one of them had to come back on the Order Paper because of prorogation, but unfortunately it was defeated by the Conservative government at the time. I would certainly hope our Conservative colleagues are having a bit of a change of heart in looking at this issue because I think it is a non-partisan issue. It is about taking real action on behalf of all coastal communities.

    I want to point out to my Liberal colleagues that a number of them still sit in the House today who voted in favour of Bill C-638. Of note, the current Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and the Prime Minister are all on record of having voted for that legislation and I will expect to see their vote stand up in this Parliament when we get to Bill C-219.

    In 2015, in the dying days of the 41st Parliament, we had a half-hearted attempt by a Conservative backbencher to bring in a bill, Conservative MP John Weston. It was a legal fine of about $100,000 and jail time for those who abandoned, but too little, too late, in my opinion.

We have had action from the NDP, the Conservatives, and the Liberals on this issue. It is certainly one that all parties are very well aware of.

    I will be voting in favour of the motion, but I want to make sure that the House is aware of the contrast between this motion and the bill from my colleague for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, Bill C-219. The Liberal motion points to the need for a legislative solution but, unfortunately, it does not compel the government to act.

    Motions are great, but we have to look at the very first line, which says “That, in the opinion of the House”. The government of the day is not bound to follow this motion. It is not a binding a motion. While it is good, I will take note of all the MPs who support the bill, and it would be great to contrast that with Bill C-219 later to see if the action will be there to back up the words.

    However, the motion compels the federal government to act only if there is an imminent danger. The issue is the fact that the federal government is the only body that can designate someone to intervene before a vessel becomes a hazard. Therefore, the responsibility falls on us to protect our coastlines. I appreciate the wording in the motion, but I think we need to have further action, and that is why I really see the action on Bill C-219 later.

    It is good to see that there is a six-month timeline for the motion. Hopefully, we will see the government stick to that. I think that vessel owners certainly do need to be educated about identifying the problems that can come if vessels are abandoned, and so on.

    The motion did have several amendments proposed. One was from my colleague for Nanaimo—Ladysmith and, of course, the Liberals did end up amending their own motion.

    The troubling amendment is “replacing the words “create a mechanism” with the words “identify mechanisms””. I think this shows that the government is actually a bit scared to take action on this file, because if we go from “creating a mechanism”, which is an action word, to “identifying a mechanism”, we are kind of giving the government a route out, which, to me, is troubling.

    The other removal from the Liberal Party was the consideration of “acceding to the Nairobi International Convention for the Removal of Wrecks, 2007”. This is something that was recommended by Transport Canada in 2010.

    We do want to see the government take some meaningful steps on this problem. Hopefully, as in the amendment to the motion from my colleague for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, that we should basically, within six months, be taking the government to task for dismantling any abandoned ships or wrecks that lie in waters that are a source of drinking water, threaten the environment, or obstruct navigation. I think that would have made the motion a lot stronger. Unfortunately, it was not passed, but, again, we will have time to revisit this issue hopefully by next year when Bill C-219 comes.

    The problem at the heart of this issue has always been that we live in a land of jurisdictions, as every MP knows. Not only do we have three federal agencies that are responsible for this, Environment Canada, Transport Canada, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but we also have conflict with the province, and sometimes with municipalities, first nations' territory, and even port authorities. I have seen issues in my own riding where it is just a bunch finger pointing, and we just go around in circles. This is why taking action at the federal level and showing that true leadership is so urgently needed.

    Therefore, we absolutely need to pass this motion, but more importantly, we need to compare and contrast what the Liberal government is prepared to do when it comes to real legislation on this matter, and compare and contrast their votes at that time with what they did in the past.

    We need to create more recycling facilities, support more salvage businesses, and we certainly cannot, as my friend for Courtenay—Alberni said, do this on a ship-by-ship approach. This is an urgent problem. If we do not deal with it immediately, with no concrete action, we are going to be affecting first nations' traditional waters, we will have more oil and sewage spills, and sensitive ecosystems will be affected as well as migratory bird and fish habitat. Of course, it also affects tourism, which is so important to communities like mine. We get so many American tourists who come up here, and the last thing they want to see is an abandoned vessel that has been left on the beach or is listing off to one side.

    If we do not take action, municipalities are going to continue to bear the burden. The main issue with the motion is that it would be non-binding on the government, so we hope that will change with a vote on Bill C-219 at a later point.

    I would like to thank my colleague from South Shore—St. Margarets for bringing forward this important motion. She certainly has my support on it.