Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcolmson is refusing to back down as the federal government attempts to dismiss her proposed legislation on abandoned vessels and is set to make history by calling on a secret ballot to save her bill.
A House of Commons procedural committee recently deemed Malcolmson’s Bill C-352 “non-votable” after it was found to be too similar to legislation tabled by the Liberal government in October.
“It’s unprecedented that the Liberal majority is blocking my bill especially at the final hours after my legislation is a year and a half old and there’s is just two weeks old,” Malcolmson told the Chronicle after a community meeting at the Frank Jameson Community Centre last week.
Malcolmson is set to file an appeal this week to urge all 338 members of parliament that Bill C-352 on Abandoned Vessels be debated and voted on Dec. 6 as scheduled, but parliamentary procedure requires that process be done by secret ballot.
Her argument is that the two bills are quite unique and that a private member’s bill has some limitations compared to what the government can put forward such as prescribing budgetary impacts.
“I think the two bills would work very well together,” she said, adding that the proposed vote will either occur this week or next.
“They’d compliment each other and I’ll continue to urge all members of parliament to allow debate and vote on my bill so that we can bring forward the abandoned vessels solutions that coastal communities have been calling on for 15 years.”
Last week, Ladysmith community members gathered for a discussion led by Malcolmson, but also attended by MLA Doug Routley, as well as several members of city council and the marina industry, on the problem posed by abandoned vessels.
The meeting came less than 24 hours after a 50 foot pleasure craft known as the White Orca sank in Ladysmith Harbour – the second such incident in less than a month.
But while the Anapaya was on Transport Canada’s radar as a Vessel of Concern, the White Orca was not.
Coast Guard media relations Carole Saindon said a 24 inch containment boom was set up to contain the suspected fuel spill.
“We can confirm no one was on board,” she said. “It is not known at this time how much fuel was aboard the White Orca at the time of sinking. There is no known risk to the environment.”
Ladysmith council passed a resolution at Monday night’s meeting asking the federal government to honour its commitment to have Malcolmson’s bill debated in the legislature.
Mayor Aaron Stone said at last week’s community meeting that he too saw differences in the two pieces of legislation and their effectiveness in dealing with abandoned vessels problem facing the town.
“The legislation being proposed by the Liberal government does not provide the resources or the mechanism that address the scourge of backlog that is here today,” he said. “If we’re only concerned about cost and the impact on us as taxpayers, it’s cheaper to prevent than it is to cure.”
But with the cost of removing the Viki Lyne II at $1.2 million, and the more recent sinkings still unknown, prevention of future incidents also requires a larger budget for federal initiatives such as the Abandoned Boats Program.
Ladysmith submitted nine boats for consideration but the Capital Regional District’s application was even larger than the approximately $1 million being awarded in the first of the five year program.
“It’s something that requires a little bit of care and attention from the federal government to listen to the local communities,” Stone noted.
Many of the residents also raised concerns with the gaps in licensing and enforcement which currently makes is difficult to hold an boat owner accountable if a vessel is purposefully abandoned, or sinks.
Malcolmson’s bill proposes making Coast Guard as the first point of contact to then either handle a oil spill response or designate the incident to either Fisheries and Oceans or Transport Canada.
She credited the work of current and former Ladysmith councils in seizing the issue and creating an inventory that shows the federal government how big the problem is locally.
“This is an example of a small community that got the load from higher capacity municipalities and that’s why we can’t continue to go on this path where the municipalities with the higher budgets have fewer abandoned vessels and rural communities pick up the load,” she said.
Stone said “the last thing Ladysmith wants is to be the place of derelict vessels” but wasn’t in favour of the idea raised by some in the room of investing in a harbour authority, which would only lead to higher taxes.
“We already have enough challenges with property taxes and local government. We don’t need any reason to raise them further,” he said. “For Ladysmith to invest in something like a harbour authority would only move the problem to the next neighbouring jurisdiction like Nanaimo did to us.”
Ladysmith Maritime Society executive director Rod Smith believes a solution to the funding gap might be in the creation of a foundation where individuals, corporations or other local groups can contribute to cleanup costs.
He recently returned from a conference in Washington State where the Department of Natural Resources program instituted over 15 years ago has led to the removal of over 700 boats.
“They’ll look at an individual vessel and say what’s the best way to approach this and everybody comes together with a little bit of federal funding, state funding, personal donations, and they get the thing done,” he said.
“What I really like about what they’ve done is that it’s a community project. Together we could come up with something similar and clean this place up if we had the authority to do so.”