Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on 
Fisheries and Oceans

Issue 2 - Evidence - February 5, 2008


OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met this day at 6:18 p.m. to examine and report upon issues relating to the federal government's new and evolving policy framework for managing Canada's fisheries and oceans. Topic: Arctic study.

Senator Bill Rompkey (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: I want to welcome everyone. There may be people watching the recorded version of this committee on television, and I want to welcome them as well and assure them that this will be a commercial free broadcast. There will be no interruptions.

I am Bill Rompkey, Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. We have with us Senator Comeau from Nova Scotia, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and past chair of the this committee. We have Senator Watt from Nunavik in Northern Quebec, who has been a member of the committee for some time and is very knowledgeable about the Arctic, which is where our study is focused. We have Senator Cowan from Nova Scotia, also a Maritime province. His roots are in Newfoundland giving him a double indemnity in understanding the sea. We have Senator Robichaud from New Brunswick, who is a former Minister of Fisheries. Finally, we have the dean of the Senate, Senator Adams, from Nunavut, who is very important to us always, but particularly at the moment because the focus of our study is the Arctic.

I want to welcome George Da Pont, Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard. I would ask him to please introduce his colleagues.

George Da Pont, Commissioner, Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Mr. Chair, it is a pleasure for us to be here tonight. I have with me Charles Gadula, Acting Deputy Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, and Gary Sidock, Director General of Fleet Directorate at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. In the course of their careers, both have had direct Arctic experience, so their comments may be helpful to the committee.

I have a few opening remarks for the committee, after which we will be happy to answer any questions you might have.

[Translation]

The Canadian Coast Guard welcomes the focus of this committee on the north and the launch of its Arctic study. It presents us with an opportunity to profile the work the Coast Guard undertakes in the Arctic.

We have a significant presence across the Arctic. Every year from late June to early November, we deploy one light, two heavy, and four medium icebreakers to the Arctic. These icebreakers operate in a harsh climate and some of the most challenging ice conditions in the world. Our icebreakers are often the first vessels into the Arctic each shipping season and the last to leave.

We also have three vessels on the Mackenzie River and Beaufort Sea delta.

[English]

The icebreakers support economic and commercial development by escorting ships through the ice-covered waters, by keeping shipping channels open, by breaking and clearing ice in harbours and communities, and by maintaining navigation aids. In addition, Coast Guard vessels provide essential support for science. Every year, both Canadian and international scientists use them as platforms for a wide variety of science missions that contribute to our understanding of the northern environment and of climate change. Coast Guard vessels also deliver supplies to several remote northern settlements and to Environment Canada and DND sites, such as Eureka and Kugaaruk. They also provide annual support to the United States Military Sealift Command at Thule, Greenland.

Coast Guard vessels and helicopters support the at-sea scientific needs of a variety of government departments and agencies, including DFO's Science Program, the Canadian Hydrographic Service, Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada, as well as the research supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. This year the scientific work was especially significant given the wide range of research activities related to the International Polar Year. A few examples of the science work done in the Arctic using Coast Guard vessels as platforms were: stock assessments of marine mammals, anadromous and freshwater fish, and emerging fisheries in Nunavut; aquatic ecosystem assessments, including examining the impacts of various development activities; numerous hydrographic surveys for the creation of navigational products and services to support the anticipated increase of ocean-going transport in the Arctic; and mapping of the ocean floor, including activities in support of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea process.

In addition to science, the Coast Guard facilitates other Government of Canada research initiatives. For example, this year, the CCGS Amundsen conducted an Inuit health survey from Hudson Bay to Resolute and is now spending the winter in the Arctic with scientists on board who are conducting a circumpolar flaw lead study. Coast Guard icebreakers also provide icebreaking, logistical and platform support as required for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and for the Armed Forces. Often, our Coast Guard vessels are Canada's most visible symbol of presence and capacity in the Arctic.

[Translation]

However, the most important asset is not our vessels but rather our people. The women and men who crew these vessels are very professional. Most go to the Arctic every season and they have accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience. They know the conditions. They know the challenges. They take the time to visit the local communities and tap into local and traditional knowledge.

Much of our success in delivering our programs and services is due to them and their dedication. For example, most of our icebreaker commanding officers have 20 plus years' experience in Canada's Arctic.

I have tabled, for your information, a copy of our 2007 Arctic Operations Order. It is fairly technical, but it does give a good overview of the program planned by each vessel, last year. As you would expect, there were in-season adjustments to deal with unforeseen developments but the overwhelming bulk of the planned program was delivered.

[English]

In its deliberations, I hope that the committee finds this document and the photos of some communities useful.

Icebreakers are not our only presence in the Arctic. As you undoubtedly know, the Coast Guard delivers such critical services to Canadians as marine communications, aids to navigation, search and rescue, environmental response and waterways management. While vessels support some of these activities, they also require significant other infrastructure. For example, the Coast Guard maintains a little over 1,500 visual and aural aids to navigation on the Mackenzie River from Great Slave Lake to Tuktoyaktuk, just over 300 aids across the Arctic Ocean, and about 26 aids in Hudson Bay and James Bay. These navigation aids help to ensure the safe voyages of vessels by reducing the risks of grounding and collision.

In addition to the placement and maintenance of these aids, the Coast Guard provides navigation safety information through the publication of monthly notices to mariners, lists of lights and buoys and an annual edition of Notice to Mariners. We also provide marine communications and traffic services in the Arctic, including distress and safety communications; broadcasts of important marine safety information pertaining to weather and ice charts; and notices to shipping. These marine communications and traffic services help to ensure the safety of life at sea and the protection of the environment through effective traffic management and efficient movement of shipping.

There are two Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centres in the Arctic — at Iqaluit and at Inuvik — that operate from about May to November each year, depending on the weather and traffic conditions. At that time of the year, the MCTSs are transferred to other centres south of 60 during the winter months because there is very little traffic in the Arctic over the winter.

Intrinsically linked to these MCTS Centres are the services provided by Coast Guard Search and Rescue. On average in the Far North, there are 11 marine search and rescue cases per year involving pleasure crafts or local community vessels. We provide search and rescue services through the coordination of missions and the provision of rescue preparedness and response. We work in partnership with other government departments and the RCMP, supported by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

[Translation]

Icebreakers and helicopters tasked for Arctic operations are the primary search and rescue resources for the Arctic. The Coast Guard Auxiliary has units in Hay River, Yellowknife, Cambridge Bay, Rankin Inlet, Iqualuit, Inuvik, Port Resolution and Fort Chipewyan. A new unit will be operating from Aklavik this coming boating season.

The Canadian Forces provide fixed and rotary wing SAR aircraft from CSB Trenton and CFS Yellowknife.

[English]

In addition, the Canadian Coast Guard has the primary response lead for pollution incidents or marine spills north of 60 degrees. This means that when a marine pollution incident occurs, the Coast Guard provides a federal monitoring officer or on-scene commander role, as it does in other parts of the country. We also provide the actual cleanup responsibilities in the Arctic. We provide competent, qualified environmental response personnel as pollution response officers. We coordinate interdepartmental activities in support of ship-source or mystery spills. Also, Canadian Coast Guard personnel monitor, assess and respond to each situation until it is resolved.

There are 14 environmental response locations situated across the Far North. Ten of these are community depots. Three are large ones, including Churchill, which is south of 60 degrees. There is also an environmental response base in the community of Hay River on Great Slave Lake.

We configure and design our equipment in the Arctic to balance the limited infrastructure with the need for immediate action and with the ability to escalate or deploy resources from elsewhere, if needed, during a response.

In Minister Hearn's announcement last fall on the health of the oceans, he outlined new activities such as enhancing Canada's oil spill response capacity, emergency planning, as well as research and protection activities in Canada's Arctic waters.

Another key service provided in the North is waterways management. The Coast Guard provides water level forecasts during the summer navigation season. These water level condition forecasts at a number of locations are critical to safe navigation on the Mackenzie River, the Liard River and the Peel River. Forecasts are issued several times a week to assist shipping companies in optimizing cargo loading and benefiting from available water depths. The Coast Guard also uses the forecasts to manage its floating navigation aids and, in particular, to reduce the loss of aids.

We also have a special role in providing the beach master support and cargo coordination for Iqaluit, an important transshipment resupply route.

[Translation]

So, as you can see, the Canadian Coast Guard's work in the Arctic is considerable and we are looking toward an equally busy 2008. We are currently in an intense pre-Arctic 2008 planning phase with numerous and various clients and partners.

Current 2008 Arctic commitments of note include: Continuation of ongoing Arctic exercise participation with DND; Eureka and Kugaanuk re-supply missions; placement of underwater cables in the Northwest Passage; icebreaker participation in an Arctic environmental response exercise in Greenland along with the Unites States and Denmark; and significant International Polar Year activity.

[English]

In closing, I believe that the Canadian Coast Guard, as the federal government's maritime services provider, does a good job in delivering its programs and services in the Arctic and in supporting the activities of other government departments. We feel we are well positioned to support the government's northern strategy as announced in the last Speech from the Throne.

We would be happy to deal with any questions you may have.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senator Comeau: What is the status of your vessels in terms of age and the need for replacement? Are we "online," or are we getting behind in terms of having to replace certain vessels?

Mr. Da Pont: I presume you are referring mostly to the icebreakers instead of the entire fleet.

Senator Comeau: That is correct.

Mr. Da Pont: Our icebreakers are in better condition than many other parts of the fleet. We would like to replace the two heavy icebreakers within the next 10 to 15 years. The Louis S. St-Laurent is about 40 years old, and we have to plan to have it removed from service in 10 years because it will be hard to get effective use out of it much past 50 years. The Terry Fox, the other heavy icebreaker, is not all that far behind. Therefore, our priority for replacement planning would be the two heavy ones. We would be looking at planning to replace the medium and light icebreakers after 2020. We have a bit more time with respect to those ships.

Senator Comeau: What is the lead time on replacing the Louis S. St-Laurent? How many years would you need?

Mr. Da Pont: More than I would like. We have been doing a fair bit of assessment, and we think it would take about 8 or 10 years after a decision is made to replace it.

Senator Comeau: The deadline is approaching.

Mr. Da Pont: We are getting close to the deadline, yes.

Senator Comeau: My second question is in regards to the staffing of ships. Are you facing any issues in terms of getting people to serve on the ships? If so, what staffing issues have you encountered?

Mr. Da Pont: We are facing some staffing issues. It is probably one of our bigger risks looking out over the next few years. As I mentioned, we have terrific people with considerable experience, but like many other parts of the public service, many of our experienced navigators and people on the vessels will be retiring in the next five to seven years. If I recall the numbers correctly, we are looking at about 20 to 25 per cent.

At the same time, there is a worldwide shortage of mariners right now, and we are having more difficulty attracting people. I think people are attracted to working in the Canadian Coast Guard, but we will have to be more effectively at recruitment, training and development than we have in the past. That will be a significant priority area.

We have already started with the Canadian Coast Guard College. For example, several years ago there was no intake of new officer cadets at the college. We have ramped that up over the last two or three years from, perhaps, 10 or 12 to 50 a year for the next few years in anticipation of what is coming.

Senator Comeau: I can vouch for the professionalism with which your crews handle the vessels up there. Five years ago, Senator Adams and I spent a week on the Louis S. St-Laurent. They indicated to us at that time that some decisions had to be made regarding the Louis S. St-Laurent. My understanding is that the decisions have not been made yet but should be made quite soon.

Mr. Da Pont: I believe there was some significant investment required for some of the engine work five years ago on the Louis S. St-Laurent. That has been done. We feel it is a very capable vessel and it can do the job, but at the same time it is now 40 years old, and it is getting time to think about a replacement.

Senator Comeau: I have one more question. This is coming from a novice. In the middle of the summertime, how far north could one of our vessels go? Could it go up to the North Pole?

Mr. Da Pont: I will let Mr. Sidock give you a more precise answer. It is a difficult question because it depends on the year, the weather conditions and the thickness of the ice.

Gary Sidock, Director General, Fleet Directorate, Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Yes, it is exactly as the commissioner said. Frankly, our commanding officers would be the first to say that respect for the ice is paramount. Respect for the environment is paramount. Frankly, the ice is in charge. However, we have attained the North Pole. Typically, there is no operational or scientific reason to do that, although, of course, there have been some political developments in that area.

Senator Comeau: We might actually go out and remove that Russian flag.

Mr. Sidock: I believe 10 years ago Canadians flew up and did the same thing.

Senator Comeau: True.

Mr. Sidock: We have attained the North Pole jointly. The Russians are up there all the time. We regularly transit up to Eureka, which is above latitude 80. That is protected, but it is a regular resupply mission.

Up until the arrival of the International Polar Year and UNCLOS provisions, there really was no mission reason for doing it. Now that has changed, of course. Frankly, it depends on the ice conditions. We are certainly capable.

The Chair: Just so I am clear, no decision has yet been taken to replace the Louis S. St-Laurent.

Mr. Da Pont: It will take eight to 10 years to replace, from decision to replacement.

The Chair: In the meantime, the ice is melting quickly and the passage is opening up. I am puzzled about a 10-year lead time and that no decision has been taken to replace a ship that is very important in view of what is happening.

The second thing I wanted to clarify was intake. My understanding is that the navy does not have a great deal of difficulty in attracting people. Is there competition with the private sector, or what are the reasons you have difficulty recruiting?

Mr. Da Pont: We have been assessing that issue. Part of the answer, as I mentioned, is the fact that given the worldwide shortage of mariners we are beginning to see more of an imbalance in salaries. We have not been losing and would not expect to lose our experienced people because they have locked-in pensions, which makes movement a little more difficult. However, we are starting to see a disturbing trend with some of our younger people beginning to move.

We are also in a more competitive marketplace, with the navy expanding and with job opportunities in the RCMP. These are probably the same people that we are recruiting. There are also opportunities for people in Northern Alberta and elsewhere. I think it is just that the marketplace is more competitive.

As well, for a long time, we did not do all that much recruitment. We were in a period of reduction after program review. We really did not need a lot of the apparatus that we had in place to go out and recruit since we were not doing that much hiring. Now we have to rebuild our capacity to get back out into the schools and communities and do the marketing. If we do that, I think we will find we will not have a problem because the Coast Guard does have an attractive brand name and people are interested in a career. I think a combination of those factors is causing our problems at the moment.

The Chair: You have no plans to advertise on Hockey Night in Canada, do you?

Mr. Da Pont: We cannot afford to advertise on Hockey Night in Canada.

Senator Cowan: My question follows the questions of Senator Comeau and Senator Rompkey. You have set out an ambitious program. I have the same concerns that my colleagues do about the capacity to deliver on the program.

My office in Halifax sits opposite the Coast Guard base. I know how often those vessels are sitting there. When I make inquiries, I am told that a vessel may have come in for a six-month refit and it has taken 18 months and is still not done. We all know the horror stories of the refit of the Louis S. St-Laurent, and only part of that is attributable to its age.

While we all support an enhanced role for the Coast Guard in this programming that you have described tonight, we share a real concern about your ability to deliver it with the equipment that you have. You have talked about the age of the Terry Fox and the Louis S. St-Laurent, but other vessels have been sitting. I am thinking of the Alfred Needler, which has been sitting in Halifax for two years.

Mr. Da Pont: Not two years.

Senator Cowan: Close to two years. Presumably when it is out of service, other vessels have to back up to do that sort of thing, so there is a general shortage all around.

I would like to hear more about how aggressive you are in terms of ensuring that the equipment you have is put back into service as quickly as it can be and that you are aggressively pursuing and getting some encouragement from the government in terms of early replacement, or at least early ordering of the ships, which I assume everyone agrees need to be replaced.

Mr. Da Pont: You make some very good points. I would say several things. We have been very successful in the last two federal budgets. Investments of over $750 million have been approved for the Coast Guard to acquire 16 large, new vessels. Our large-vessel fleet is about 40 vessels, so we have now approval to replace 11 of those. Eleven of the 16 are replacements for some of these older vessels, including the ones that are in the poorest condition, the science vessels such as the Needler that you mentioned. Five of the 16 are actually additions to the base fleet. We have seen significant investments in the last two budgets.

The challenge, obviously, is for us to get through the procurement process as expeditiously as possible and get those new vessels. We expect and hope that they will arrive between 2010 and 2013, which is our projected time.

At the same time, we have prepared a systematic plan, with various phases, for fleet renewal over a 25-year period. At the appropriate times, we will be seeking approval for subsequent phases of that renewal process. We have made significant strides in the last few years in beginning to replace a significant part of the fleet, and we certainly intend to complete that process and to keep pushing it aggressively.

There are issues about how we have been maintaining the fleet. The Auditor General looked at our operations last spring and found that the age of the fleet is a significant factor, but also found that there were issues internally in terms of our systems and processes and how we were approaching them. We are putting a considerable amount of effort into trying to rectify these issues. We have, for example, increased the amount of funding that we allocate to refit vessels. We have begun to systematically conduct vessel condition surveys so that we can avoid one of the issues that crops up. That is to say, when a vessel breaks down and we have it in the yard to be repaired, we sometimes discover other things that have to be fixed. All of a sudden a vessel that we thought would be out of service for a month or two is out of service for six months. We are putting focus both on the renewal side and on improving how we do our vessel maintenance.

Senator Cowan: To what extent do you use private sector suppliers? Lots of ships are around and to what extent do you use them to fill the gaps created by shortages in your fleet or parts of your fleet that are in repair for extended periods of time?

Mr. Da Pont: We use private contractors and private shipyards extensively to do the major refit and significant maintenance work. It is done through competition in accordance with normal contracting processes. A significant amount of our refit activity is contracted out. Obviously, we have an internal capacity as well.

Senator Cowan: I was thinking more in terms of hiring private vessels to fill the gaps created by the shortage in your fleet.

Mr. Da Pont: We do that from time to time. Mr. Sidock can probably elaborate on this, but we can charter some types of vessels as a replacement for one that is unexpectedly out of service, and we do that.

The difficulty is that many of our vessels do specialized work. You cannot charter an icebreaker. I am not aware that you can go out and charter a vessel that can do our heavy buoy work. With a lot of our science vessels, part of the way they do their critical work, such as shock assessments, requires using the same vessel. If you shift to a different one, it corrupts the data. Much of what they do is building a history of data. Hence, for certain aspects of the work, it is not a viable option.

Senator Cowan: Surely some of the vessels used for routine patrols in the southern waters have capacity in excess of what they require. For that purpose, could they be shoved up the line to provide the heavier, more specialized duty required and then hire the private sector to do other work as a stopgap? I am not suggesting this ought to be a permanent solution, but where you have a shortage of equipment and you have equipment in repair for extended periods of time — far longer than you would want — it may be a stopgap measure.

Mr. Da Pont: I can assure you that we have looked at those options and utilize them wherever possible.

One of their primary activities for some of the smaller vessels is search and rescue. We have certain territorial coverage requirements limiting how those vessels can be moved and what they can do. While I indicated that we have had significant issues in terms of our large-vessel fleet — vessels over 33 metres — most of our small-vessel fleet, which does a lot of the patrol activities, is actually in excellent shape. We have had significant investments in them over the last eight or 10 years, but it cannot easily be shifted to pick up the jobs done by the larger vessels.

Mr. Sidock, do you want to add to that?

Mr. Sidock: The commissioner spoke well about the issue.

Many of the smaller vessels are specialized. For example, every Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue lifeboat is self-righting. The boat can roll over. There are fundamental crew protection issues. However, it cannot do too much else.

We look at the possibility of bringing other platforms into the Coast Guard, but they are very expensive. They do not tend to be easily modified for our purposes and the most multi-tasking vessels would be the offshore supply vessel design. However, with the high price of oil, none of these vessels are available for charter because they are all busy supporting oil production, exploration or exploitation.

Occasionally, we could bring one in, but it is typically not a good financial option. However, it occasionally does provide a means to have a good stopgap platform.

Senator Adams: I live in the Arctic, north of Hudson Bay. This year we had barges that were supposed to take mining equipment to a site and ended up in Rankin Inlet last October. That is the nature of the North.

My concerns are about the Coast Guard operating in Nunavut. You mentioned that the military and the RCMP have been doing work up there. I was disappointed you did not mention the Canadian Rangers. They have helped the people in Nunavut and made trips to Hans Island to ensure other countries do not take over our islands. That island is disputed with Denmark.

The Inuit have been living up there for thousands of years on the water and the land. The Inuit are good sailors, fishermen and hunters. We want to settle land claims and, like the rest of Canada, create more jobs for people in the community. Someone in your department should look into utilizing the Rangers.

The Chair: Before you go on, senator, I want to ask for a clarification. Do the Rangers go to sea? If not, why?

Mr. Da Pont: The Rangers primarily play a critical support role. The senator is absolutely right. They support many activities of the Armed Forces. It is more the Coast Guard Auxiliary that is in the local communities.

The Chair: I do not want to monopolize the questioning; I just want to be clear. It seems to me Senator Adams makes a good point. The Rangers are a natural fit. They are on the sea and they know the sea. If you have difficulty recruiting people, why is there not more of an intake?

Mr. Da Pont: I was going to address that because it is an excellent point. One of the aspects we will be doing in our recruitment is a more targeted recruitment of northerners and Aboriginal people. We have not done that much as part of our general recruitment, and it will be one of our key strategies. To build the capacity to do this, we will have to work through the Inuit and Aboriginal associations and local communities to attract people. That is one of the things we are looking at as part of what I hope will be a new recruitment strategy we will roll out over the next year or so.

Senator Adams: Some of the people in the North, particularly in Iqaluit, are affected by supplies coming in by commercial sealift. The Coast Guard is still coming into the community. One ship comes from Baffin Island. I listened to witnesses this morning appearing before the House of Commons Fisheries Committee. Those in Grise Fiord and Resolute are more affected by the navigation fees charged to the shippers.

I have been telling the minister that for four or five years. About one year ago the deputy minister said he would write me a letter about what would happen in the future, but one year later I have still not received it.

Today, captains operate with computers and satellite communications to receive messages about the ice and other conditions. They no longer call the Coast Guard to know the best routes to take. One community ship went up to Grise Fiord from Iqaluit and the navigation fee was close to $30,000.

The individual shipper has to pay by the tonne for anything ordered that they load on the ship in the south to bring north. I believe that the military launched a monitoring system in the Arctic early last fall, but I do not know how the system works. In addition to ships, there is monitoring of commercial airlines flying across the Arctic. If a commercial airline crashes up there in the future, it will be difficult to get to it. On a clear day at Rankin Inlet, I can see about 10 jets flying across the Arctic.

Mr. Da Pont: You have raised a number of good points. Let me start with the marine service fees. They are an issue not just in the Arctic, and I have heard a great deal about them consistently.

About one and a half years ago, our minister agreed to launch joint work with the commercial shipping industry to look at options for dealing with marine service fees, including Arctic service fees. We have been working with the industry on options hoping to come up with a solution that works for everyone. We try to work closely with them.

In terms of the Arctic, as part of that work we produced a discussion paper last year on Arctic service fees that was shared with the shipping industry, the government of Nunavut and the other territorial governments.

The total amount that we collect on marine service fees in the Arctic is $100,000 per year. I appreciate the point that the amount could be important to the individual shipper. I hope that we are able to come to a solution that works for all of us before the start of the next shipping season in June. We are working toward that goal.

In terms of your other issue, we work cooperatively with the Armed Forces. For example, in each of the last three summers we have held joint exercises for the Coast Guard and the Armed Forces in the Arctic. Last year we worked jointly on an exercise to respond to a fictitious environmental emergency. We have been trying to build solid relationships and to work together so that we can respond to any kind of emergency situation and to ensure marine domain awareness. Obviously, their monitoring is for military purposes whereas ours is for navigation purposes, so that naturally imposes some limits on what you can share with whom. Generally, we try hard to work in an integrated way with them on those issues.

Senator Watt: You mentioned that these two icebreakers are at the point of needing to be replaced. How many icebreakers do we have, including the two ships that need to be replaced within 8 to 10 years.

Mr. Da Pont: We have two heavy icebreakers, the CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent and the CCGS Terry Fox. We have four medium icebreakers that are less capable but still have a reasonable amount of capability. As well, we have a number of light icebreakers and vessels, but generally only one or two of those would operate in the Arctic. They are designed less for icebreaking in Arctic conditions and more for icebreaking on the Great Lakes.

Senator Watt: In other words, they cannot be used as a backup in the Arctic.

Mr. Da Pont: Absolutely not. They would not have the power or capacity to do that. If the Louis S. St. Laurent were out of commission for a significant period of time, we would not have another vessel to replace it.

Senator Watt: You are relying on the two icebreakers to operate in the Arctic because of the significant ice conditions.

Mr. Da Pont: Yes, we rely on the two most capable icebreakers. After that, we have four medium icebreakers that are also quite capable. They could replace the Louis S. St. Laurent for certain kinds of work but not for the heavy work that the icebreakers often are required to do.

Senator Watt: Those two icebreakers have scientific equipment on board to map the sea floor. Are they equipped enough to do the work that Canada needs to put forward for its claim to the sea bottom, including the continental shelf and the slope?

Mr. Da Pont: Absolutely.

Senator Watt: Are they fully equipped to do that work?

Mr. Da Pont: Yes. In fact, most of the actual program of the Louis S. St. Laurent, or a significant part of it this past summer, was seabed mapping in support of what would be Canada's claim under the Law of the Sea.

Senator Watt: Since the technology is evolving into a new area, I would imagine there is recognition that the technology on the ship might have to be upgraded from time to time, which would delay the work of the ship. You mentioned that sometimes the unexpected comes along and takes longer than expected. How long does it take to replace a normal fitting and make the adjustments on a new piece of seismic equipment, for example?

Mr. Da Pont: It would vary depending on the equipment. Generally, we do that most years in some fashion, depending on the program. Scientists using the platform bring different types of equipment, and that is part of getting the vessel ready to go. Seismic items would take two or three weeks, I believe.

Senator Watt: How many years have those two ships been assigned to the work of mapping the Arctic seabed?

Mr. Da Pont: I do not know how far back that goes.

Mr. Sidock: The mapping under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, has been ongoing for about two years.

Senator Watt: Is it possible to access that information?

The Chair: We had testimony from somebody at DFO about how the department is going about that process. We might have some of that already, but we could ask for more.

Mr. Da Pont: I know our Coast Guard vessels have been used in the past couple of years; they are regularly used to support hydrographical work in various parts of the country. We would have to get the details from our colleagues. It would be better to get them directly from the Canadian Hydrographic Service. Wendy Watson-Wright is the Assistant Deputy Minister of Science.

Senator Watt: Have those questions been asked?

The Chair: We asked some questions around what they were doing in preparation for the submission of the claim under UNCLOS.

Senator Watt: This might be a difficult question to answer.

We are not the only country that has an interest in the Arctic. Russia and the United States are also interested. At some point down the road, it will become an important factor in terms of timing in order to harness all the information needed to make decisions. Questions such as "What part is in the international waters?" and "What are the international waters?" become very important. By that, I refer to both the continental shelf and the slope. The slope cannot be excluded. The slope includes the extension of the continental shelf out into an area that might be quite a distance from your homeland. For that purpose, are we well-enough equipped to be able to compete and to challenge the challengers?

Mr. Da Pont: I can only answer a small part of that question. It is a very good question. I am afraid that our colleagues at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada would have to answer the larger issues of how we are asserting the Government of Canada's claims in international waters and how well equipped we are to deal with the arguments. I am not equipped to give you a good response, but I can say that we make our vessels available to support that work as needed. So far, we have been able to deliver the Canadian Coast Guard vessels to do the work that they wanted done when they wanted it done. From that perspective we have been able to deliver what we have been asked to do. I would have to defer to my colleagues at DFAIT to answer the larger issue.

Senator Watt: I need to have a better understanding of a current. I am talking about the top of the sea and not the bottom. To what extent are we studying that?

This information has to do with rescue operations. If you have a better understanding of the revolving currents in and out of the bays, you have a better chance of doing your work in terms of making sure that people survive.

As an example, I think the Canadian Coast Guard was heavily involved in one particular issue. One researcher though that I was involved in it. A canoe had disappeared. I said to the person who was traveling with that canoe, "What time did the canoe disappear?" He told me and I told him he was looking in the wrong location. In three days, the currents can move something into a completely different area. Data such as that would be very useful for safety purposes.

To what extent do we have an understanding of the currents, whether in the Subarctic or the High Arctic? Is any work being done on that subject?

Mr. Da Pont: The point you make is very important. South of 60 degrees, we have been trying to develop some modelling to help us do precisely that.

The Arctic is challenging with regards to information and data. I do not think we have very much information on currents and, as I am sure you are well aware, large parts of the Arctic are not even well charted for navigation purposes. Your point is well taken. However, the information we currently have is hit and miss.

Charles Gadula, Acting Deputy Commissioner, Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada: There is a shortage of definitive information in local areas. Required in most of these types of search-and-rescue cases is information on wind-driven currents. In other words, what currents are created by local winds in the local area, the local surface currents as they exist on most oceanic charts? Another factor is tidal influence.

Over time, the Canadian Coast Guard has built computerized search planning that can be imported for use in the Arctic areas. However, you still need the base information. In the rescue sub-centres, they can put in local information that will give you a final vector that will take you to the most probable position for the search object at a particular point in time.

You hit the nail right on the head: If you do not have the local information, you may well be searching in the wrong area.

Senator Watt: Given the permanent currents and the various layers of currents, has the idea ever been put forward to update the satellite information?

Mr. Gadula: I am not aware that satellite information gives one that sort of information.

Senator Watt: If it can track beluga whales, perhaps it can be applied to search-and-rescue activities.

Mr. Gadula: Something that does exist is called a data marker buoy, a floating piece of equipment that you can throw in the water and track. It will tell you the drift vector at a particular point in time. That would be the combination of the surface current, the wind-driven current and any tides. Tools have been developed and are out there, but we do not have deep knowledge of local currents and local communities in the Arctic area.

Senator Watt: How are you planning to obtain that information? It would be useful to obtain local information.

Mr. Da Pont: Ultimately, we would need large portions of that work to be undertaken by our colleagues. We do try to factor in local knowledge as much as we can.

Senator Watt: Traditional knowledge.

Mr. Da Pont: Yes, traditional knowledge. However, the Arctic is a big place. We have major work to do regarding seabed mapping, developing charts to facilitate navigation and the issues you raised.

Senator Watt: I do not know whether it is under your jurisdiction or if it would be considered a local issue, but I will ask my question regardless. You mentioned a lack of infrastructure in the Arctic. That is very true. Does the Coast Guard have a role to play with the local communities by installing equipment, such as lights, that is needed for the local safety and search-and-rescue activities along the coast? We do have people who get lost in a fog unless they have a compass, and even if they have a compass there is a bit of a problem. I am talking about those lights. What do you call them?

The Chair: Do you mean the buoys?

Senator Watt: I am thinking of the lights that you can install at the various high points.

The Chair: Beacons?

Senator Watt: That is it. If a project could be put together by various communities, would there be some interest by the Coast Guard in helping in that area?

Mr. Gadula: The Coast Guard has responsibility for a program involving both fixed and floating aids to navigation throughout the Arctic, and we are engaged currently in a level-of-service discussion with communities in the Arctic trying to identify the needs and demands. We will then have to find a way to respond to them. There is work underway on levels of service regarding all of our services throughout the Arctic, such as marine communication, floating and fixed aids to navigation, weather information and so forth.

The Chair: In terms of search and rescue, there was a facility in the Western Arctic and one the South, but no facility in the Eastern Arctic. Is that correct? I am talking about air capacity, not necessarily sea capacity, although perhaps that is not there either. Could you explain why there is a difference between the Western Arctic and the Eastern Arctic in terms of providing search and rescue services?

Mr. Da Pont: There is not a difference. We provide the marine rescue service. The Coast Guard has the primary responsibility for on-water issues, but the air support for that is provided by the Armed Forces. In terms of how we deal with them, we do have an MCTS centre that is part of the SAR network. We have one in Iqaluit in the Eastern Arctic and one in Inuvik in the Western Arctic. It is supported by the air equipment that the Armed Forces have based in the Arctic. Also, some of the support has to come from south of 60, depending on the location.

The Chair: As you said before, it is an awful big territory.

Mr. Da Pont: It is an awful big territory.

The Chair: To fly from point A to point B in time to do something effective does not make a lot of sense.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: As concerns sovereignty, the fact that Coast Guard vessels are navigating in the waters of the Far North is in fact an affirmation that it is our territory.

Do you have any activities that primarily target sovereignty in order to demonstrate our presence to anyone who might be interested?

Mr. Da Pont: Not directly. Each year, we have seven vessels in the area. We have equipment and we are responsible for buoy maintenance. All of this underlines the government's presence in this region. Our mandate is one of search, rescue and services. We do not really have a direct mandate concerning sovereignty issues. However, we make a major contribution thanks to our presence.

Of course, we work in close cooperation with other existing government organizations and we provide the support the need. For instance, the Canadian Forces are there to assert Canadian sovereignty far more directly than we do.

Senator Robichaud: Let's talk about the Northwest Passage. In the past, when an American ship wanted to take this route, rather than declare war, we would send an ice-breaker as an escort.

Do we have agreements with the Americans to prevent such a situation from happening? The Americans persist in claiming that these are international waters.

Mr. Da Pont: Once again, I am not really in a position to answer your question because it falls within the purview of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. For our part, we are there to support their work. I have no direct knowledge of the political agreements in place.

Senator Robichaud: Without a request from the Department of Foreign Affairs, you would simply have to watch this ship sail by?

Mr. Da Pont: This situation has never really occurred. As I have tried to explain, we are responsible for controlling the ships. In fact the situation only occurred once, a few years ago. Approval was given and one of our icebreakers accompanied the American ship and one of our captains was on board the American ship. That is the only situation that has required us to deal with the problem. In this situation we followed the recommendations of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Senator Robichaud: You have equipment in place in case of a significant spill. Have you had to deal with this type of situation over the last few years? There is far more activity in the North today then there was in the past.

Mr. Da Pont: We have not noticed any increase in those incidents. Most often, this type of problem occurs in communities. We have provided training to some community members in the field. In most cases, the problems are minimal.

However, you are right. I am somewhat concerned about the possibility of having to deal with a greater problem. That is why the minister announced, a few months ago, that studies will be carried out in order to build our capacity to respond to greater problems.

Senator Robichaud: Are the members of Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers? They are not paid?

Mr. Da Pont: Indeed.

Senator Robichaud: These people do however receive training to deal with that type of situation, do they not?

Mr. Da Pont: Yes, they support our rescue efforts and other activities. We focus a great deal on training these individuals.

Senator Robichaud: If, say next summer, senators wanted to go and spend a week on board one of our ships in the North, to see what goes on, would that be possible? We are dealing with the North; Senator Adams and Senator Watt go there regularly. However for us, it is a remote region, practically unknown to us. I have been there a number of times, but we just go and come back.

Mr. Da Pont: It would be possible to organize a trip on one of our icebreakers, if you like. We can try to determine an appropriate time.

Senator Robichaud: I was quite interested in the Radio-Canada reports on various expeditions and research. I found them very interesting.

I believe Canadians need to know what is going on in this region and they need to know about your activities in particular. Perhaps if people were to go up North to see your operations it would help you secure a greater budget and purchase new ships.

Mr. Da Pont: We could certainly find an opportunity for you to come visit us. It would certainly be very useful to us.

[English]

Senator Adams: Mr. Da Pont, earlier you said you worked with other countries such as Denmark, Russia and the United States and that you are not responsible for their work in the North. Those people do not recognize Arctic sovereignty. Before going up there, they should talk to the Government of Canada. Is that the responsibility of DFAIT?

Mr. Da Pont: Yes. I think the question had to do more with the type of arrangements we have in place with the United States around the Northwest Passage and so forth. I would have to defer to the Department of Foreign Affairs to answer. As I explained, we support them and respond as needed and when asked.

On other issues, we are doing exercises with other countries within our areas of responsibility. This coming summer, for example, we are looking at a joint exercise with the United States and Denmark, off the coast of Greenland, on an exercise to respond to an environmental emergency. Certainly, in order to respond to a significant event in that part of the country, we would have to rely on whatever resources anyone had, as would they. We are working in our areas of responsibility to prepare for those eventualities.

Senator Adams: A lot of mining exploration is going on up there, especially around Pond Inlet at Mary River. I heard rumours that ships from Europe would like to operate hauling ore for 12 months a year. Does legislation have to be passed before anything happens?

Another mining company is negotiating in that area. If they want to operate 12 months a year, it will affect the people in the communities by breaking up the ice and impacting the hunting.

About a year ago I talked to a local guy in Arctic Bay. Sometimes the icebreakers are good for hunting. A seal comes up through the broken ice, but two hours later, I can cross again on my snowmobile. I am wondering what the future holds.

Mr. Da Pont: In terms of the larger arrangements from a regulatory perspective, Transport Canada is responsible for authorizations within regulations.

If we someone wanted to operate 12 months a year, at the moment the issue would be that we do not have an icebreaker capable of providing that support for a year-round operation.

The Chair: You mentioned joint operations with Denmark and the United States. We know that the U.S. Coast Guard is a constabulary operation. Are the Danes a constabulary operation? Would it be of assistance to you and a benefit to Canada if you were a constabulary operation? The other Coast Guards with whom you are interfacing are armed, but you are not.

Mr. Da Pont: I do not think I can offer an answer to that question, except to say that for the existing mandate of the Coast Guard, we do not have a requirement to be armed. Our mandate is primarily a safety mandate. It is not a security mandate. We support the security activities of other government departments.

The Chair: One of the things that we want to look at is whether the current mandate is sufficient or whether the mandate should be changed. There are people who think that the Coast Guard should have a greater presence in the Arctic and exercise greater sovereignty on our behalf.

Senator Robichaud: We do not need guns for that.

The Chair: No, but that is a question for another day. I just wanted to put it on the record.

Senator Watt: In the not too-distant future there could very well be an environmental disaster in the Arctic. If I understood correctly your response to Senator Robichaud, we are not equipped as Canadians. Where do we go? How do we deal with a crisis if the crisis comes?

We do not know much about the Russians, but they must have some kind of equipment and readiness that we can rely on if we have no idea where to turn. We are talking about the cap of the world. We have enough problems now. Imagine the consequences if that happens.

Mr. Da Pont: That is one of the things I am worried about personally. We do have a certain capacity, as I mentioned. We have depots and pre-positioning equipment. If there was a major incident — a major oil spill or a major accident — we only have a limited number of vessels that can operate in the Arctic. How quickly we could respond would depend on where they were.

As I mentioned earlier, that is the reason the minister has announced a study. We have resources to facilitate looking at these types of questions to see what we can do, working with others, to better prepare ourselves and to augment the existing capacity. I have spoken to my counterparts in the United States and Russia on this very issue and they have exactly the same concerns and worries about capacity issues.

Senator Watt: Are they not equipped either?

Mr. Da Pont: I do not think any of us are equipped when we imagine the range of possibilities. We are equipped to respond, but how effective and quick the response would be would depend on a variety of factors. With major oil spills, responding quickly is very important. In the Arctic ecosystem, the potential damage is much more lasting and significant, and the cleanup is much more difficult.

These are all issues we are reviewing. I would not say that Canada's capacity is any less than some of these other countries. I think we all share these issues. That is one of the reasons we are looking at trying to work collaboratively. For example, last year we had an inaugural meeting of the coast guards of the North Atlantic region, which included Canada, the United States, Russia and the northern Nordic and European countries. One of the outcomes was an agreement to set up a working group on some of these environmental issues, and Canada has agreed to act as chair. We are all preoccupied with these issues and with determining how best to augment our capacity.

Senator Watt: As Senator Robichaud mentioned, maybe we senators and others with an interest should try to bring about public awareness in this regard.

We have a responsibility to our country to inform the general public. Sometimes we have a tendency to look only at government handouts in terms of financial requirements. Perhaps we had better look at it differently and start to encourage the private sector to take a good look at this issue. It could mean long-term investment, although I do not know how long the investors would be able to sit on the investment without seeing a return. We are almost at a crisis point if anything were to ever happen.

Senator Cowan: You mentioned the U.S., Russia and the Scandinavian countries. What equipment do they have? We have two heavy icebreakers. How many heavy icebreakers would these other countries have?

Mr. Da Pont: I brought a chart that lays out that information. I do not know if one of my colleagues has it handy.

Senator Cowan: While you are looking for it, has this government or the previous government made any commitment to the replacement of our two heavy icebreakers?

Mr. Da Pont: There has been no decision to replace our heavy icebreakers yet.

In terms of your question on the relative capacity of the countries, Russia has six polar nuclear icebreakers, which are the biggest and most capable vessels, and four polar icebreakers. The United States has two polar icebreakers. Russia has two heavy icebreakers, China has one, Sweden has one and Canada has two. By and large, both the United States and Russia have more capability.

Senator Cowan: Would these be newer vessels than the ones we have?

Mr. Da Pont: The American ships are newer and the Russian ships are a mix of old and new.

Senator Cowan: The 16 CCG vessels that have been authorized are in the procurement process; is that right?

Mr. Da Pont: Yes.

Senator Cowan: What does that mean?

Mr. Da Pont: The process is at the beginning stages. None of the vessels are icebreakers. Basically, once we get approval to acquire vessels, we go through a tendering process. Given the size and the amount of money involved, they are treated as major Crown projects, so there is a tendering process run by the Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada that we follow in the bidding process.

Of the 16 vessels, 12 are one class of vessel. We have a request for proposal out to the public to construct those vessels, with bids due toward the end of the month.

Senator Cowan: Are those the ones that you expect to be ready in four or five years?

Mr. Da Pont: Yes. We are hoping that the first of those vessels will be delivered in 2010. The other four are primarily science vessels that were mentioned before. I hope that by the end of the calendar year, if not by the end of the coming fiscal year, we will have requests for proposals out for the construction of those vessels as well.

Senator Cowan: To Senator Watt's last point, in terms of the larger vessels, I assume that the heavy icebreakers are much more expensive than the other vessels we are talking about.

Mr. Da Pont: Yes. We have been doing some costing. There is a range of capabilities with the heavy icebreakers, but we are probably looking at between $700 million and $1 billion for one vessel.

Senator Cowan: Could this process be accomplished by means of a public-private partnership?

Mr. Da Pont: I am not entirely sure what you mean by a public-private partnership.

Senator Cowan: I am talking about raising the money privately to produce the vessels. The government would control the vessels but would not own them.

Mr. Da Pont: We would look at the options for the procurement process. We have looked at the possibility of contracting, which is essentially what you are saying. A private company would build the vessel, provide the upfront money and the government would lease the vessels from the company over a significant period of time. We have looked at those options, but they do not appear to be economically viable for this type of vessel.

The Chair: Senators, I want you to stay because we have to approve the budget. It will not take long.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: Can the bids for the building of these ships come from anywhere in the world? Could we have them built here in Canada?

Mr. Da Pont: According to government policy, they must be built in Canada.

Senator Robichaud: Bravo!

[English]

The Chair: There are other questions that we should have asked. Perhaps we will have a chance another time. The evening is getting late and we have more business to do.

I thank the witnesses for coming. We appreciate their frank and full answers to the best of their ability and within their mandate.

Senators, we will move on to the budget, a copy of which you have before you. This preliminary budget will keep us going in the interim and will not break the bank.

Could I have someone move adoption of the budget?

Senator Cowan so moves, seconded by Senator Watt.

Are senators in favour of approving the budget?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Thank you.

The committee adjourned.