Archived - Government Response - Report on the Marine Infrastructure (Small Crafts Harbours)

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Recommendation:

That the entire divestiture program be carried out with the greatest transparency with regard to the stakeholders listed.

The Government fully agrees with this recommendation, and is committed to openness and transparency in divestiture.

This is true regardless of which department is involved. Although Transport Canada's Ports Divestiture Policy has different parameters around divestiture of ports and harbour beds than those of Fisheries and Oceans harbour divestiture program, both departments make concerted efforts to ensure stakeholders' views are respected.

Within Small Craft Harbours, there are actually a pair of parallel divestiture programs.

As the Committee noted, the recreational harbour divestiture program is a result of a Program Review decision. The objective of this program is to remove these harbours from the federal inventory. Wherever possible this is done while ensuring the same level of public access under ownership more suited to a recreational base.

The program to divest derelict and low-activity fishing harbours is also based on the same Program Review decision, but with no pre-identified target harbours. Fisheries and Oceans works closely with local communities to identify which harbours have a low enough level of activity to be divested from the core inventory, and which should be part of the core active inventory.

For both types of harbours, the extent of face to face negotiations, or broader communication such as notices in local newspapers or meetings with local citizens, is determined in conjunction with the local government. While it is rare to get total consensus among all of the stakeholders, the Government is committed to allowing the local community to decide the future of its harbour.

The Government continually seeks new ways to ensure that divestiture of federal property does not have a negative impact on the local communities. This is especially important in small harbour communities. One of the positive results of this recommendation is an enhanced level of cooperation between Fisheries and Oceans and other federal departments and agencies on ensuring harbour communities have access to resources and skill development opportunities, regardless of whether a harbour is divested or not.

Core active fishing harbours are retained by the Government and leased to Harbour Authorities, who are able to manage the operational needs of the harbour in accordance with local needs and conditions.

As the Government devotes Small Craft Harbour resources to core fishing harbours, the pace of divestiture is dependent on the availability of special funding or conditions which allow transfer without significant resource needs.

Recommendation:

That the federal government allocate $400 million over the next five years to address the rust-out problem in the remaining core Small Craft Harbours to ensure that they are brought up to an acceptable state of repair.

That the federal government thereafter allocate an additional $28 million to the annual budget of the Small Craft Harbours program on an on-going basis to ensure that core harbours are maintained in an acceptable state of repair.

The Government was pleased to include in Budget 2001 $20M per year for each of the next five years for infrastructure repairs to active fishing harbours. This reflects the priority given to this program by the Government, given the funding pressures across government.

Combined with $40M in rust-out funding received as part of 5-year Program Integrity funding, and its regular budget, SCH funding levels in 2002/2003 will be over $95M, the highest in approximately 10 years. This will allow SCH to address all urgent safety-related repairs at core fishing harbours.

As this Committee has rightly pointed out, there are also urgent resource needs elsewhere within Fisheries and Oceans. Accordingly, Fisheries and Oceans is conducting an internal review to ensure resources are being used in the best possible manner.

As independent organizations, Harbour Authorities also have access to additional funding from other federal sources not available to government operated harbours, such as employment programs and regional development initiatives, as well as from other levels of government and the private sector. In addition, as they mature, Harbour Authorities may be able to develop innovative revenue sources to invest in improvements and expanded services. These could include additional revenue-generating services to the commercial fishers, or other potential harbour users.

Recommendation:

That consideration also be given to these other harbours that are not listed as core but are nevertheless deemed critical to the fishing industry.

The Government sustains a network of federally-owned, core, active fishing harbours, required by the industry, and is faced with the need to reduce, rather than expand, the existing asset base. The Government agrees that consideration should be given to how non-government-owned harbours may play a role in this network.

The Government's first responsibility must naturally be to ensure our own harbours do not pose a threat to public safety. With this in mind, Fisheries and Oceans devotes its resources to meet that objective.

Within this context, case-by-case basis consideration may be given where as part of a clear rationalization decision, the addition of a harbour contributes to overall program objectives (e.g. addition of one harbour will alleviate the need for one or more less suitable harbours).

Recommendation:

That the Small Craft Harbours program be provided with adequate technical and human resources to enable timely tender calls and contract awards so that harbour improvements can be completed in the same fiscal year as funding approval.

The Government shares the Committee's concern that contracts need to be in place in time to allow work at harbours to be carried out during the construction season.

The challenges associated with the contracting process are not a function of the available human and technical resources, but of the responsible checks and balances associated with the budget and contracting processes to ensure proper stewardship of taxpayer resources.

Fisheries and Oceans has made significant progress in addressing its budgeting cycle to allow for resource allocation as soon as possible in a fiscal year. As recently as two years ago, internal allocations were not finalized until the fall. They are now largely in place by the start of the fiscal year in April, allowing for an earlier start to the contracting process.

The Government is committed to openness, access and transparency in its contracting, and has laws and policies in place to support this. Within this environment, the Government is conducting a government-wide Procurement Reform initiative to address efficiency in many areas of contracting.

SCH staff in headquarters and the regions are fully dedicated to ensuring the best possible service to Canadians.

Recommendation:

That the Department of Fisheries and Oceans retain the responsibility for dredging in core harbours transferred to harbour authorities.

In fact, core fishing harbours are not transferred to Harbour Authorities; they are owned by the Government and leased from DFO by Harbour Authorities who manage the facilities in accordance with local needs and circumstances. As owner and landlord, DFO continues to be responsible for essential harbour infrastructure repairs. Dredging requirements are considered along with other maintenance requirements at DFO-owned, HA-operated, harbours. These are funded by DFO as the budget permits, and subject to certain restrictions, may be funded from the Budget 2001 repair funds.

Recommendation:

That the federal government ensure that an appropriate federal authority is charged with the responsibility for dredging and other channel maintenance beyond the confines of the harbour proper in order to provide safe access and that it be provided with the funding to carry out this responsibility.

The Government sees this as two related issues, especially in its context in the report.

It is true that dredging is no longer conducted by the Canadian Coast Guard or Public Works and Government Services Canada. In the mid 1990s, the federal government's Program Review exercise accepted a recommendation from the Standing Committee on Transport that the private sector and the Ports benefiting from dredging should assume financial responsibility for this work. (The Coast Guard was part of Transport Canada at that time.) Consequently, the CCG's dredging program in commercial channels was terminated except in the international waterways of the Great Lakes where Canada has a commitment to the United States. The Department is no longer funded to provide maintenance dredging in commercial navigation channels except in the Great Lakes. The Department retains the responsibility to ensure that navigation channels are safe and meet environmental requirements through the establishment of guidelines, channel sounding, information portals, marine aids and other safety services.

However, the Government is pleased to clarify how this relates to Small Craft Harbours. As indicated in response to the previous recommendation, the Government retains responsibility for dredging within its own harbours. Given the Small Craft Harbours mandate to keep harbours critical to the fishing industry open and in good repair, Small Craft Harbours may dredge the entrance to its own harbour, subject to available funding, and other repair needs. Any additional dredging not strictly required for access to Small Craft Harbours could only be considered on a cost recovery basis.