Speech to NDP Motion No. 441, a motion to carry out a review of the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to rise in favour of Motion No. 441, a motion to carry out a review of the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations, and I am so pleased to have the honour of seconding this motion presented by my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle.

This is a very straightforward motion. It masks a complicated issue, but all it really asks this House to do is study and look at how we can improve and streamline the existing regulation that was passed. It speaks of creating a streamlined process to enable local administrations to request restrictions on the use of vessels on certain waters in an effort to improve how waters are managed, all in the interests of public safety and environmental protection.

It is pretty straightforward. All we are asking the government to consider is whether this 2008 regulation, in light of the evidence that my colleague has presented, is working effectively. We would really welcome the opportunity, speaking for myself as the seconder, to work with the government to see if we can make it better.

My colleague spoke of three principal reasons.

First is the need for social peace on some of these little lakes. I live in British Columbia, and I have seen the fisticuffs that can happen when we have people with Ski-Doos and powerboats versus people who want to kayak or have canoes. I think that is something we really want to talk about. I thought my colleague did an excellent job in outlining that objective.

The second reason, of course, is enhanced environmental protection, letting municipalities get at this issue and improve it for the purposes of environmental protection.

The third one, which I would hope would attract the government's attention, is red tape reduction, something the government has spoken very effectively on. This is an area where we could actually make a difference by working together.

As someone who comes from an urban riding in Victoria, I can attest to the kinds of conflicts that happen even in urban areas as people try to undertake outdoor activities on lakes. Sometimes, as I say, conflicts occur on lakes even in our area.

These regulations are five years old, and I think the simple plea that my colleague's motion makes is that we should try to improve them if we see problems. I believe, for reasons I will come to, that he has identified some very clear problems.

They start with the fact that the process set out in the guide that he spoke of pursuant to the regulation is extremely lengthy and complex. He talks about municipalities having to do a three-step public consultation process, explore non-regulatory alternatives, apply for a restriction on the body of water in question, and carry out a complex review in which the Office of Boating Safety reviews the file and ensures the process meets a particular cabinet directive, of which the member for Essex, the hon. parliamentary secretary of transport, spoke, namely the cabinet directive on streamlining regulation.

I think it is telling that my colleague's excellent and assiduous work on this issue has unearthed so much support from people in different areas.

The Quebec chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society applauds this motion. It says that:

It is a simple and practical solution for managing our waterways, especially for smaller communities that lack the resources needed for this kind of endeavour. We hope Parliament adopts this motion.

That is from CPAWS, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Fédération Québécoise des Municipalités, the federation of all Quebec municipalities, applauded this motion as well.

There is a problem. People identify a problem.

The former mayor of North Hatley, Pierre Levac, talked about the difficulties and complexity. He said that even federal officials are saying that the process is much more complicated than before, that they are going to need a project manager just to apply for a regulatory amendment.

That is from the former mayor of the Township of Hatley.

My colleague has done so much consultation in trying to get to the bottom of this that many other people have come to the same conclusion: that there is a problem and that we should try to work together to fix it.

Again, what we are asking for is to work together to fix a problem that has been identified by many stakeholders. It is merely a request that we sit down and try to improve this regulation. I am disappointed that the government has apparently slammed the door in my colleague's face on this initiative. I am hoping we can persuade the government that this is a problem that we can work on together to fix.

My colleague was very clear in noting, as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities did as well, that navigation and shipping, under section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867 is without doubt the exclusive domain of the federal government. My colleague was very clear that there is no effort whatsoever to derogate from that. All he is seeking is to empower municipalities and local governments, aboriginal and other, to address the problem when it arises, and to have real teeth.

He pointed out a very serious and specific problem. He talked about a tiny municipality, such as a rural municipality in northern British Columbia, or in the Laurentians, in the case of my colleague, say of 1,500 people. They have to get legal advice and do all of those steps I talked about, all that consultation and spending all that money. If it has 97% in favour, that is still not enough because one person can thwart the consensus that has been achieved in this code of conduct.

We can do better than that and put real teeth behind this. If it happens that a local government's people, having done the consultation with all the parties, including aboriginal and non-aboriginal, comes to a consensus position, they can get this passed without the kind of difficulty and red tape that my colleague has demonstrated so obviously exists in this process.

I know this has been an issue all over Canada. It has certainly been an issue in my province of British Columbia. The member even referred to the frustration on Columbia Lake, where after years and years only two or three sections have been able to be set apart and restricted, as per the wishes of that local area. The point I am trying to make, in short, is that there is an issue. With the greatest of respect, I do not understand why such a simple issue cannot be addressed in good faith by both sides of this House now that the issue has been identified so clearly by so many people. It is a simple matter to say that we have a regulation that is not working, so let us fix it. I thought that is how we were supposed to work together.

There is also the second issue of environmental protection. That is at the bottom of the complaints that local governments get, for example, there are too many motor boats and they are causing pollution in the water. There are other things about water management that has attracted municipal attention in the past, where power boats, for example, are involved. Eutrophication of the lake can be exacerbated by the use of motor boats. This could contribute to shoreline erosion. There can be greater turbidity in the water, which causes sediments to rise from the bottom of the lake. There can be increased density of algae that is created.

These issues come to the attention of local governments when the community is located right on the lake or the water body. The government officials say they know it is a federal issue, but they want to try to fix it and they try to use this legislation. My colleague has pointed out very, very clearly that it does not work. It seems to me fairly self-evident that we should try to take such a simple problem and work through it.

I would have thought that the red tape reduction initiative would attract the attention of the other side of the House. We hear a lot about that, but when we come to those members with a specific and demonstrable example, they seem to turn away from it. I do not understand that. This regulation costs nothing. This is a question, not of money, but about trying to reduce the number of obstacles thrown in the way when the people in municipalities want to get involved and take action on the waterway on which they are located.

There are many solutions that can be addressed. However, we are simply asking the Conservatives to review the regulations, consult with the provinces and the municipalities and the first nations, and produce strategies that would work for Canadians to simplify this process and make it work. We understand the regulation was enacted in good faith, with a desire to address this problem. We agree with the regulation; we just want to make it work better.

Again, I would ask that the Conservatives think seriously about how we could work together to address this very specific but very real problem.