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Water Today Title November 25, 2017

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The Changing of the guard


This is a second in a series of Q&As WaterToday conducted with federal ministers over the past months to see what, if anything might change under a new Liberal Goverment.

Our questions here were addressed to Hunter A. Tootoo who represents the electoral district of Nunavut in the House of Commons of Canada, and was appointed the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, on November 4, 2015. While the answers we received shed some light on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' mandate and initiatives, we can't help but wonder where the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker icebreaker went? Initially expected to be commissioned in 2017, it no longer seems to even appear on the horizon.

Q1. The department has been renamed from DFO to Fisheries, Ocean and the Canadian Coast Guard. Can you give me a sense of why this step was taken? What aspects of the work and operations of the CCG are seen to need more focus?

A1. The department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada has not been renamed, what did change is the Minister's portfolio title. The priorities of the Canadian Coast Guard are clearly outlined in the Minister’s mandate letter. Amongst others, these include making improvements to Canada’s Search and Rescue system; meeting commitments made for new Coast Guard vessels as part of the National Shipbuilding and Procurement Strategy; and the improvement of marine safety.

Q2. Most people I talk to tell me the existing fleets are old, unreliable, and inadequate. The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy was supposed to fix this, but it seems to be going very slowly and producing very expensive ships. Is the NSPS sustainable?

A2. The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy has made significant progress to date. We have established long-term strategic relationships with Vancouver Shipyards and Irving Shipyards, who have invested nearly $500M to modernize their infrastructure at no cost to the Government of Canada. We now have two shipyards with world class infrastructure that are ready to build Canada’s new combat and non-combat vessels effectively. There are ships in full production at both shipyards, the Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels and the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS). Ships built in Canada create Canadian jobs, drive Canadian economic benefits, and create the capacity we need to maintain and repair our ships.

Q3. In the last few years Canadian ship owners, ports and local communities particularly in the Arctic have been complaining that there are not enough icebreakers to do the work, and the situation is getting steadily worse. What will you do to fill the icebreaker gap? It has been reported this week that the Navy will turn to the private sector to charter new tugs and fireboats. Is this a possible model for the Coast Guard?

A3. The Coast Guard provides icebreaking and ice management services to support the safe, economical and efficient movement of ships in Canadian waters. The operating season in the Arctic starts in late June and ends in mid-November as set out in CCG’s existing Levels of Service. CCG Arctic Operations include icebreaking and ice escorts, support for scientific and government programming, delivering supplies to isolated communities, providing maintenance for aids to navigation, environmental response, and search and rescue activities.

Icebreaking support is governed by Levels of Service standards that are reviewed regularly with clients to ensure that the resources are aligned with current and emerging needs. The Canadian Coast Guard will deploy seven icebreakers to deliver the Government’s 2016 Arctic program.

Q4. There is a lot of concern in the Arctic over the risks associated with increased traffic as the ice recedes. People tell me that the charts are bad, communications poor, and emergency response systems inadequate for search and rescue, pollution response, and so on. What can you tell me about steps your department is planning to address these problems?

A4. The Coast Guard is currently working with territorial partners, Northern communities and the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (CCGA) to immediately expand marine emergency response capacity in the Arctic. Working with CCGA, we will increase training for volunteers and strengthen the coordination of emergency response efforts.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Canadian Hydrographic Service has also received funding to acquire and install four state-of-the-art multibeam sonar systems aboard Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers in order to increase the amount of seafloor surveying in the Arctic.

Moving forward, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Hydrographic Service and Transport Canada are working together on the Northern Marine Transportation Corridors Initiative to determine what the appropriate mix of navigational services, infrastructure, and emergency response services could be across Canada’s Arctic waterways. The Coast Guard works closely with other Arctic nations through the Arctic Coast Guard Forum to ensure that best practices are shared internationally.

Q5. A large cruise ship, Crystal Serenity, will sail through the Arctic this summer – a first. How ready is your department to cope with any incident to this ship?

A5. The Canadian Coast Guard and our partners are well prepared to respond to any incident involving any vessel in Canadian waters. We have a robust system of alerting, coordination and response comprised of primary dedicated search and rescue resources and crews augmented by volunteers and partner agencies that responds to emergencies every day across Canada. In addition we are signatory to International search and rescue and pollution response agreements that promote collaboration in planning and response among Arctic nations when responding to such incidents in remote locations.

Q6. While the coast guard is not getting any new icebreakers, the Navy is now building a fleet of Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships. How will these be used to help meet some of the problems in the Arctic?

A6. The Coast Guard is in fact acquiring a new polar icebreaker which will increase coverage in the Canadian Arctic. The Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) will be delivered to the Royal Canadian Navy. For more information on these vessels, please contact the Department of National Defence directly.

Q7. At present, ships operating south of 60 off the East Coast and in the St. Lawrence system pay user fees for icebreaker support, and I understand that these fees have not been changed for some time. Is there any intention of changing the fee system and applying it to the Arctic as well?

A7. The Canadian Coast Guard implemented the icebreaking fee south of 60 in 1998 and the fee rates have not changed since that time. The Coast Guard continues to maintain a longstanding policy of no cost recovery for icebreaking or marine navigation services delivered north of 60. In addition, a permanent exemption from Marine Navigation Services Fee has been established for commercial ships undertaking community resupply activities while making transits between locations south of sixty and north of sixty. Therefore, commercial ships devoted primarily to community resupply in Canada’s Arctic are also exempted from the navigation fees that would otherwise apply to the portion of their voyage travelled south of 60.

Q8. Stephen Harper named the new polar icebreaker after Diefenbaker. Some people have told me it’s bad luck to name a ship before it’s ready to be launched. Will you try to cancel the bad luck by cancelling the name and thinking of a new one for later?

A8. We are proud to operate a fleet of vessels whose names often honour prominent Canadians and explorers. Every name on every vessel tells a story that promotes Canadian heritage. Prime Minister Diefenbaker was Prime Minister when the modern Coast Guard was created and he was the first Prime Minister to conceive a northern vision for Canada. Our ships are named in accordance with our naming policy which is available on our internet site.

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