Alistair's speech on Bill C-64, Abandoned Vessels

Mr. Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to partake in today's debate, especially since I am speaking here today as a proud coastal member of Parliament who comes from a neck of the woods just south of the riding of the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith. My riding, Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, and my colleague's riding together formed what was known as the riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan.

    This is a problem that coastal people have been dealing with for far too long, no matter what part of Canada they live in. Abandoned vessels not only pose threats to our environment, and in some cases threats to navigation, but they are an eyesore. They cause real harm to communities that are trying to build up an image of a sustainable community, a place tourists would want to visit.

    I spent seven years working as a constituency assistant to former member of Parliament Jean Crowder in the riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. As a constituency assistant, I was often on the phone with constituents who were outraged at the runaround they were getting and the jurisdictional finger pointing. They had gone to the municipality and to the regional district. They had gone to the port authority, to the province, and to the federal government. Every one of those agencies basically pointed at someone else, saying, “It's not our problem.” All those calls and the many years of problems building up prompted Jean Crowder to take action, and I will get to that in a moment.

    I want to go over a bit of the history of how my particular community has experienced this problem. Right in the heart of my riding is lovely Cowichan Bay. I hope some members in the House get a chance to visit Cowichan Bay. It is a quaint, ideal little place on the coast. It has a great history of being a big industrial area that transformed itself into this great little community, which tourists come to every year by the droves.

    We have had our ordeals with abandoned vessels. I will go back to the Dominion. The Dominion was a large Japanese fish-processing ship, which was towed to Cowichan Bay in 2007. The new owner of the vessel thought that he could buy it as an investment, sell it a few years later, and make a quick buck off it. Unfortunately, the Dominion stayed in Cowichan Bay from 2007 until 2013. It was filled with a variety of hazardous substances. It was subject to vandalism. There was the constant danger, whether from high tide or strong storms, of that gigantic ship coming loose off its mooring and plowing into other ships.

    We had the SS Beaver, which was in such dilapidated condition that it sank in 2014. It still rests at the bottom of Cowichan Bay.

    As a result of the lack of action, last year six derelict vessels were removed by the combined efforts of private companies. These companies were sick and tired of no government authority taking responsibility or having the resources to remove them. I want to recognize Western Forest Products, Western Stevedoring, and Pacific Industrial & Marine for taking on that initiative as responsible corporate citizens of the area. It affects their livelihoods, too, and they had the means to get it done. However, it should not have come to that.

    I also want to give great recognition to Lori Iannidinardo. She serves as the area director for Cowichan Bay in the Cowichan Valley Regional District. A lot of individuals have been involved in this fight over the years, but as the area director, she has had the unique position locally of bringing so many stakeholders together, along with public and community forums, and pushing for action. Lori and Jean worked together hand in glove to try to address this problem.

    Now let me turn to the efforts of Jean Crowder in the 41st Parliament. She introduced Bill C-231 in 2011. She saw a way to improve her bill, and it ultimately turned into Bill C-638, which had its opportunity for debate and a vote at second reading at the tail end of the 41st Parliament.

     I will note that the Liberal Party at that time voted in favour of this bill, and among those members, there was the Prime Minister, the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and others. In fact, there are various ministers, parliamentary secretaries, and chairs of standing committees in the House today who back then supported this bill. We are happy to see Bill C-64 moving ahead, but as the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith has so clearly laid out, there are a lot of gaps that her private member's bill certainly could have filled.

    I am happy to say that after years of advocacy, New Democrats and the coastal communities have really informed our work, and all that work is finally paying off. We are very proud that the action to clean up our coasts and waterways from abandoned vessels are finally under way.

    I will now turn to the 42nd Parliament, the one we are in now, and the efforts of the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith. The first version of her Bill C-219 very much built on Bill C-638, which was introduced in the previous Parliament. However, after a lot of consultation with different coastal organizations and coastal communities, she really took their feedback, which is evidence-based decision-making and evidence-informed policy-making. She incorporated their suggestions, because these are the people who are on the front lines, and introduced Bill C-352.

    One of the greatest privileges we have in this place as private members is our ability to bring forward legislation on behalf of our communities. What is really unfortunate about last year is that the Liberals denied her the ability through the procedure and House affairs committee, and then the secret ballot that we had here in the House of Commons, to effectively advocate on behalf of her constituents and various coastal organizations in this place. We know it was the Liberals, because that is where the majority of the votes are coming from, who denied her the ability to at least bring this bill forward for debate and a vote. They deemed it to be non-votable, and argued that Bill C-64 covered all the conditions. In fact, we can see that her bill was actually filling in the gaps that are very apparent in Bill C-64.

    However, New Democrats do not give up when they face set backs, and so the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith tried to work at committee. She brought forward a series of amendments to Bill C-64 to actually strengthen the bill and make it reflect the conversations that she had had. We wanted to implement a vessel turn-in program, create a dedicated fee to help the cost of vessel disposal, and we wanted to formalize the Coast Guard's role. The Coast Guard's main role is to guard our coast, but I would argue it is not only to guard against smugglers but also to make sure that our coastal environment is safe, sound, and environmentally secure. She tried to make sure that we could copy Washington state's model, because we do not need to reinvent the wheel. We have many other jurisdictions, one right in Washington state, and we could basically borrow the best elements from its program and transpose them here in Canada. She also wanted to try and give the receiver of wrecks the responsibility and accountability to determine the owner.

    Every single one of those amendments was defeated by the Liberals in spite of all of the testimony that we had heard at committee. That is the real shame of this. The Liberals in the previous Parliament were fine to go along with the provisions that were included in this bill, but once they got into government, and flying in the face of the evidence they heard, they refused to go ahead with that.

    The bill from the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith was endorsed by the Union of B.C. Municipalities, the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities, the City of Victoria, the City of Nanaimo, the Town of Ladysmith, over 20 more local governments, the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, Vancouver District Labour Council, and the BC Ferry & Marine Workers' Union. These are organizations and local governments that deal with this problem and confront it on a daily basis. To have those kinds of endorsements behind the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith really speaks to her perseverance, and it is sincerely unfortunate that the government did not allow those.

    I will conclude by saying that we are not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We will support Bill C-64, but I hope the government will at least listen to us and accept our amendment at report stage so that we can at least have some accountability for federally owned vessels, because that is a major loophole that exists.


Ms. Anne Minh-Thu Quach (Salaberry—Suroît, NDP): 


    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for speaking to this bill on wrecks. There are some flaws in this bill. My colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith tried to fix these flaws by proposing a number of amendments that were unfortunately rejected.

     In Bill C-64, the Prime Minister committed to investing $260,000 to $300,000 to assess and remove shipwrecks in 2017, which is a completely ridiculous amount, and $1.25 million for the four following years.

    However, in my riding alone, dismantling the Kathryn Spirit has cost taxpayers $24 million, and it is not yet complete. This bill proposes $1.25 million over four years for thousands of wrecks.

    Is that not a ridiculous amount? This is one of the flaws in this bill, in addition to all the other ones my colleague pointed out. Can my colleague speak to that?



Mr. Alistair MacGregor: 

    Mr. Speaker, my colleague underlines a key point we are debating today. The funds that have been provided by the federal government right now amount to a drop in the bucket. Transport Canada has identified thousands of abandoned vessels from coast to coast to coast. The resources it is allocating are simply insufficient, especially when we highlight the cost of removing one vessel. That is just to deal with the existing problem.

    The other problem going forward is we do not include measures in the bill to allow people to have a vessel turn-in program. Basically, for abandoned vessels in the future, people are going to keep on dumping their vessels. However, communities are where the costs ultimately land, and the costs are going to land on the federal government. We are trying to find a way to mitigate that going ahead.

    The member is absolutely right. The government is living on a different planet if it thinks its current budget is going to adequately deal with this problem which so many communities across our great country are currently dealing with.


Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.): 

    Mr. Speaker, this issue has been talked about for a number of years. In fact, we had a commitment in the last federal election to bring in legislation. This bill is yet another fulfilment of an election commitment that was given to Canadians.

    One does not have to live on the coast to appreciate the importance of our coastlines and waterways. The idea of having owners being held more accountable for their vessels is a positive thing in minimizing the potential negative impact on our coastal communities.

     I am a little confused by the comments of my NDP friend. Is he suggesting that the government should cover all the costs in their entirety, especially when there are issues surrounding the owners of the vessels or when a vessel has been abandoned?


Mr. Alistair MacGregor: 

    Mr. Speaker, no, we are not suggesting that the government cover all those costs. What we are suggesting is that the government be realistic with the actual problem. Of course, we have always supported that the owners of the vessels are ultimately the ones who have to be responsible, but in some cases it is absolutely impossible to track down who was last responsible. As a result, these ships continue to stay in these waters, continue to dog coastal communities, and the current budget simply is not adequate.

    All we are asking is for the federal government to acknowledge the reality, to realize it is the government with the most means to actually take some meaningful action. Is the hon. member suggesting that we should just let the problem stay as it is? I do not think that is acceptable to many members of Parliament in all parties here whose coastal communities simply do not have the budget, the resources, or the means to effectively deal with the problem. We are simply asking for an acknowledgement of the reality, and for some support of the well-meaning, well-intentioned amendments that we tried for the bill.