Download as PDF

Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on 
Fisheries and Oceans

Issue 4 - Evidence


OTTAWA, Tuesday, April 21, 2009

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

Senator Bill Rompkey (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. We are being televised tonight, so, senators, be on your best behaviour.

Our special guest tonight is the Auditor General, Madam Fraser. We are very happy to have you here. No doubt you will introduce the people you have with you.

We will have a statement from you and then we will be asking questions. We have been studying the Arctic for about a year. We have travelled the Eastern Arctic and we have had witnesses here in Ottawa. We are hoping to do a trip in the Western Arctic in June. We have completed a report, which will be out very soon. We have some knowledge on the subject, but we are by no means full experts on the Arctic; we still have a lot to learn. We are hoping that we can increase that knowledge tonight, because you have studied that area, as well.

In addition to the Arctic, of course, there are people with you who have studied endangered species and the Oceans Act. Senators may want to ask questions about that, too, because that is part of our mandate. We chose the Coast Guard because it is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and it is part of our mandate, but we are also interested in fisheries policy. Therefore, no doubt there will be questions on that, as well.

Sheila Fraser, Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chair. We are pleased to be here tonight to have this opportunity to discuss our audit findings from previous reports that were highlighted in a letter that we sent to your committee in March.

Joining me today are Neil Maxwell, Assistant Auditor General; and Kevin Potter, Principal, from our Halifax office.

I also have the pleasure to introduce to the committee Scott Vaughan, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. Mr. Vaughan has been in our office for about a year now. He is an environmental economist whose many years of experience contribute to advancing environmental and sustainable development audit work in our office.

Since I know the committee has a particular interest in Coast Guard-related issues, let me begin with Chapter 4 of our February 2007 status report entitled Managing the Coast Guard Fleet and Marine Navigational Services. Afterwards, I would propose that the commissioner provide you with a brief overview of the other audits that were identified in our letter to your committee.

[Translation]

In the report, we concluded that Fisheries and Oceans Canada, more particularly the Canadian Coast Guard, had not made satisfactory progress in implementing the 12 recommendations that remain its responsibility from two previous audits. These recommendations are in Chapter 31, "Fleet Management," of our December 2000 report, and in Chapter 2, "Contributing to a Safe and Efficient Marine Navigation," of our December 2002 report.

Key findings from our February 2007 report included: the Coast Guard was having limited success in developing a national approach to managing its operations; modernization of marine navigational services was proceeding slowly; and the fleet was aging, with reliability and rising operating costs continuing to be issues.

We identified three reasons for the Coast Guard's lack of progress. First, the Coast Guard accepted assigned duties even when there was no realistic way that it could successfully deliver on them. For example, the Coast Guard developed a plan to implement a special operating agency without having the resources needed to support its completion. Not surprisingly, we found that many elements of this plan were unfinished well after the expected completion date.

Second, the Coast Guard did not prioritize its actions. For example, the Coast Guard attempted to address all of our recommendations to improve management of its fleet at once. These initiatives stalled at various stages.

Finally, although the Coast Guard made commitments to resolve management problems and complete initiatives, both organizational and individual accountability for achieving results were lacking.

[English]

We made only one recommendation in our February 2007 status report. We did this because the Coast Guard, like many other organizations, has limited resources and must focus its resources on the key issues it faces, including those issues raised by us in the past. Therefore, we recommended that the Coast Guard establish its priorities for improvement, setting clear, achievable goals for each priority. Sufficient and appropriate resources should be allocated to each priority. Finally, managers and organizational units should be accountable for achieving the expected results.

After we completed our audit, the Coast Guard responded by developing its first three-year business plan. The plan set out a long-term approach to address the challenges the Coast Guard faced, including those that we reported. It established priorities, allocated resources to these priorities, and identified accountable managers and organizational units.

Subsequently, the Coast Guard has released a new business plan covering the years 2008 to 2011. In addition, the Coast Guard has also recently released a 2008-09 mid-year review of the status of its business plan. We are pleased to see that the Coast Guard continues to monitor and publicly report its progress.

I would encourage the committee to review the Coast Guard's business plan and mid-year review and inquire about its future plans to address the issues that we have raised.

With that, Mr. Chair, I would now like to turn it over to Mr. Vaughan.

[Translation]

Scott Vaughan, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General of Canada: Mr. Chair, in our status report of March 2008, we examined ecosystems and focused on species at risk and aquatic invasive species, two subjects that are closely linked. We found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada had not made satisfactory progress in implementing the recommendations in the reports that we previously tabled in 2001 and 2002.

In Chapter 5, entitled "Protection of Species at Risk," we noted that Fisheries and Oceans Canada, one of the three organizations responsible, had not prepared a comprehensive inventory of species at risk. Furthermore, the department had not met certain deadlines specified in the Species at Risk Act for the development of recovery strategies.

[English]

In Chapter 6, "Control of Aquatic Invasive Species," we reported that Fisheries and Oceans Canada had failed to assess the economic and social risks posed by aquatic invaders and, therefore, did not have the information it needed to set risk-based priorities and objectives for prevention, control or eradication.

In addition, Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not have plans or mechanisms in place for early detection of, or rapid response to, aquatic invasive species and was therefore unprepared to prevent, control or eradicate potential new aquatic invasive species.

Our report concluded that the federal government is not yet in a position to control, prevent, or eradicate invasive species that pose the greatest threat to Canada's aquatic ecosystems or to Canada's economy.

[Translation]

Mr. Chair, as you conduct your work, you may wish to consult some recent scientific evaluations. I suggest, for example, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and GEO-4, the fourth Global Environment Outlook, by the United Nations Environment Program. While our office has not audited those reports, they deal with the same topics that we are dealing with, such as the growing pressure on fish stocks all around the world, intensive fishing and its link to environmental degradation, and the effect of climate change on our oceans. Managing fisheries is uncertain at the best of times; but with climate change, it is even more so.

[English]

In our September 2005 report, Chapter 1, Canada's Oceans Management Strategy, we reported that implementing the Oceans Act and subsequent oceans strategy had not yet been a government priority. Fisheries and Oceans Canada had not yet established arrangements to resolve increasing conflicts among users of the oceans over access to space and to resources. In addition, only two marine protected areas had been designated at that time.

[Translation]

The committee may wish to ask Fisheries and Oceans Canada to provide a progress report on its response to the recommendations in our 2005 report.

A new Oceans Action Plan was supposed to be a key aspect of that response. The department should be in a position to report to the committee on the results obtained under the plan to date.

Finally, Mr. Chair, I would like to inform the committee that the protection of fish habitat will be the subject of my next report in May 2009.

[English]

Mr. Chair, we would be pleased now to answer your questions.

The Chair: Thank you. I have some questions, but I will wait.

Senator Hubley: I would like to look at the issue of Arctic sovereignty and how you feel the Canadian Coast Guard could play a role in establishing Canada's claim to the North. Where is it falling short right now? All of the issues that are facing it in a way detract from any claim we have that we are addressing Arctic sovereignty in a wholesome way.

Ms. Fraser: I will attempt, Mr. Chair, to respond to that. The whole question of Arctic sovereignty is not something we looked at, nor the role of the Coast Guard specifically in the Arctic. However, I believe our report points to many operational difficulties the Coast Guard has. The fleet is aging. We are talking about ships that will be 40, 45 or even close to 50 years old before they are replaced, when the useful life is estimated at somewhere around 30 years.

We note in the report many problems even in doing inventories of fish stocks, for example. That is a significant activity that the Coast Guard carries out that it has not been able to conduct because of operational difficulties and the fleet's not being available to it. Those issues will obviously have an impact on any activities that the Coast Guard would carry out in the North.

The other significant issue is that we say one of the Coast Guard's objectives is to become a national institution. Previously, the governance structure was such that the operations were in each region and the Commissioner of the Coast Guard effectively had no control over those activities. That has been changed, but the Coast Guard still operates — or at least at the time of our audit was still operating — very much with regionally based procedures and policies. Therefore, there was a lot of variation across the country.

The last point I would raise is on the operational side as well. You will note in the report that there is a lack of training manuals and guidance for people. We reported a number of incidents where repairs were done incorrectly and became very expensive. There is a need to raise the level of professionalism and consistency across the organization.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: In your comments, actually, you quoted findings from the 2007 report. Further on, you say, "We identified three reasons for the Coast Guard's lack of progress" and then you say, "the Coast Guard developed a plan to implement a special operating agency without having the resources needed to support its completion."

What was this special operating agency that it accepted?

Ms. Fraser: The governance model. It is an administrative model for the Coast Guard. Previously, operations were located in each of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada regions; the Commissioner of the Coast Guard could give some instructions, but had no real control over them, over the fleet, for example. They have changed that now and have created a special agency. It is a separate entity, but to accomplish that, some structures and systems had to be in place. They did not have all the resources they needed to make the transition as scheduled. We conducted our audit several months later and they were still in the process of making the transition.

Senator Robichaud: Did you identify the reasons that were preventing them from making progress in this area?

Ms. Fraser: The underlying reasons are the lack of adequate funding and the lack of resources. We did not do an in- depth study to find out if the Coast Guard was responsible for these inadequacies. In other words, if they had requested the resources and had not received them or if they had poorly assessed the level of effort required to make the transition to the new administrative structure.

Senator Robichaud: Did you look at the relationship that exists between the Coast Guard and Fisheries and Oceans?

Ms. Fraser: We have looked at it in the past, when all the equipment was managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. We always hesitate to make recommendations on what we call the organizational machinery or structure. But I think that it is reasonably clear from the audits that we have conducted, that the Commissioner of the Coast Guard had a problem, for example, when he had no control over the vessels. That control lay with the regional director in each region.

Senator Robichaud: The regional director of Fisheries and Oceans Canada?

Ms. Fraser: Yes. That has since changed. That is where they established the special operating agency. Now, the Commissioner of the Coast Guard is responsible and has control over the vessels and the personnel. Perhaps Mr. Potter could add other comments.

[English]

Kevin Potter, Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada: It also provides a special identity for the Coast Guard within Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The Coast Guard has that national identity within the special operating agency. That was one of the purposes behind its establishment.

Senator Robichaud: Would you go as far as recommending that the Coast Guard should be a full department on its own? It would be more effective and provide better services.

Ms. Fraser: No, we would not go that far.

Senator Robichaud: Have you considered it?

Ms. Fraser: We would not go that far.

The Chair: As a supplementary, in your study, did you do any comparisons with other countries that have coast guards similar to ours or roughly similar to ours? For example, did you compare our Coast Guard with the U.S. Coast Guard and draw any conclusions?

Mr. Potter: Only at certain levels, in terms of specific services and how those services are carried out, but not in terms of the mandate of the organization. The U.S. Coast Guard has a quite different mandate, being a fifth branch of the military in the U.S. It is quite different than ours, and it would not be appropriate to do a complete comparison.

In terms of a broader comparison, we are aware of some other structures of other coast guards, but that was not a formal part of the study.

The Chair: Would you say it does not really matter what government department the Coast Guard is a part of? It has been in Transport Canada and in Fisheries and Oceans Canada; it has been moved around. Does it matter?

Ms. Fraser: I am not sure that it matters. In previous audits we noted the lack of ability, if you will, of the Commissioner of the Coast Guard to actually control the ships and the people because it was in the regional directions of the Department of Fisheries.

That creates a problem. This new special operating agency was intended, I think in part, to address that difficulty.

Senator Robichaud: Is this my time or did you take over?

The Chair: Oh, I am sorry. I thought you had finished. Go ahead.

Senator Robichaud: Does the fact that the commissioner now has some authority mean that the Coast Guard is directed from Ottawa, or are there regional offices that would reflect the structure of Fisheries and Oceans Canada?

Mr. Potter: There are regional offices of the Coast Guard that report directly to the commissioner in Ottawa. That is the change that came about, and it started before the special operating agency was in place and was completed as part of the special operating agency.

Senator Robichaud: Do you see that as a very positive development?

Mr. Potter: The move to a special operating agency has provided additional powers to the commissioner that would not have been there prior to that, totally within the structure of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. I believe additional authorities have been granted on a pilot basis for carry-over or capital expenditures and capital budgets. The evolution of the special operating agency continues from the time that we did our work.

Senator Comeau: Returning to your presentation, Mr. Vaughan, regarding the Oceans Act, you indicated that a key aspect you had highlighted in your September 2005 report was to get a new Oceans Act action plan. Have you done any follow-up since that September 2005 report?

Mr. Vaughan: I will turn it over to Mr. Potter, but to my knowledge, our office has not done a follow-up from the 2005 report.

Mr. Potter: The commissioner is right. That has not been part of our work to date.

Senator Comeau: Are you saying that we would not be aware of whether the key aspects of the recommendations have been implemented unless we invite Fisheries and Oceans Canada to come in and give us some ideas?

Mr. Potter: That is correct. The only things you probably can gather from the Fisheries and Oceans site are how many marine protected areas have been established and how many ocean management plans are in place right now.

Senator Comeau: Did Fisheries and Oceans Canada at that time respond to your recommendations saying they would do it, or not do it, or were interested?

Mr. Potter: They responded that they accepted the recommendations. A large part of the response was around the Oceans Action Plan, phase 1. That was a two-year program that should be completed, and the department should be able to come back to this committee and report to you the results that were achieved.

There was to be a phase 2, and they could come and provide you with information about what is planned for phase 2. We have not looked at either phase 1 or phase 2 of the Oceans Action Plan.

Senator Comeau: I will confess I have not read your report from September 2005, so that is why I will dig a little deeper as to whether you identified in your report areas that should be looked at. Did you identify resources out there that were not being fully exploited? For example, I know some years back we went up North, and we identified species that could have been fished, possibly, had the proper analysis been done of the quantities. Senator Watt will remember that study.

Subsequently, I am aware of some species on the East Coast that are not being exploited commercially as probably they could be. Did you identify that we were missing out on some resources?

Mr. Vaughan: There is ongoing mapping of species in general and underutilized species. I know that the total global average is declining, but specifically on Canada's coast, I do not know; however, Mr. Potter might know.

Mr. Potter: The Oceans Act is structured to deal with exactly what you asked about, namely, the idea of looking at the total ocean resources and determining what those resources are, how well they are being utilized and the sharing processes, which we all know is where conflict arises.

Integrated management is at the heart of the Oceans Act. It is a difficult concept to relate to, and the departments had a difficult time establishing exactly what their approach was to integrated management at the time we did our work. They have continued with the development process, and I am aware that at least one plan has advanced quite far and is maybe even finalized at this point.

Regarding the current approach, you should bring the department here to answer how they are identifying what specific resources are not being utilized. It is beyond our work capacity to be able to do that specifically.

Senator Comeau: I bring it up because I believe we can all agree with having an integrated approach to the management of the ocean's resources. If you fish too much capelin, it will have an impact on other species. However, we would not want Fisheries and Oceans Canada to use that as an excuse not to look further into some species that are now not being fished, the excuse being to the effect of "we just do not know, so we will err on the side of caution." It is a good excuse, but we should have Fisheries and Oceans Canada indicate whether they have advanced further on some of these underutilized species.

In today's economic climate, obviously, if there are species that could be commercially fished, it would take some of the pressure off the species that are possibly being overfished and would redirect the attention to other species. However, because we do not know what the impact will be overall, we are scared that the scientists might say, "Let us not touch it because we just do not know."

I believe that is one reason you indicated at that time that a strategy or a plan should be speeded up. Am I reading it correctly?

Mr. Potter: Yes. Certainly, that is the intention of the Oceans Act, and it is not just for a single industry but across the board, because a number of different industries can benefit from the ocean's resources. The goal is to maximize your benefits while ensuring that you protect the resource for the longer term.

Integrated management is about bringing together all of the information you have about the resource, all of the users and the various interests to ensure that the longer-term perspective is brought into decision making and draw connections between various government departments that work in their own areas. The idea is to bring them to the table to make decisions that support the longer-term perspective.

Neil Maxwell, Assistant Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General of Canada: I have two comments. One is that the timing would be very good to have the department here. They made a number of concrete commitments. They were going to do an evaluation in 2006, for example, so you could ask the department about quite a few things.

The second point is the reason for doing all of that, and it was one of the major points of our audit. Canada was at the forefront when it brought out the Oceans Act in 1996. The Oceans Act was the first legislation that dealt in an integrated way with oceans management. When we looked at the situation in 2005, we were very concerned that because of the failure to implement the act properly, Canada had fallen back quite a ways. It is a very timely question.

Senator MacDonald: Picking up on that theme of the accountability of the audit, in the 2007 status report you noted the Canadian Coast Guard's history of failing to complete corrective action on issues raised in previous audits. Did you identify specific problems in 2007 that you feel our committee might have a role in encouraging the government to address?

Ms. Fraser: In our audit we tried to identify what we saw as some of the major issues. This had happened several times and there were many recommendations that were outstanding for a long period of time. As I mentioned, we have identified three of them. It comes down to a can-do attitude and that they would take everything on, but the priority setting was not very clear and the resources were not there to be able to accomplish those recommendations. When you try to do everything at once, with insufficient resources, you end up accomplishing very little. In fact, it is better to do fewer things, make sure they are adequately resourced and then move ahead.

We are pleased to see that the commissioner did develop the three-year business plan and, I think, took our recommendations seriously. In discussions we had with him, he seemed committed to addressing the issues, to being strategic about them and to setting priorities to ensure things would be done. We see from the reporting being done that they are monitoring progress.

The committee may want in a future meeting to discuss with the commissioner what his priorities of corrective action are, whether they adequately resourced, what progress has been made and what he expects to do. We were quite satisfied with the response we had with the action plan that he put together. Our sense, even though we have not audited, is that he is making progress in addressing some of the recommendations.

Senator MacDonald: What criteria do you use to select the topics for your audit?

Ms. Fraser: We go through quite a planning exercise. For all the major departments or issue areas — for example, human resource management, IT management or various cross-cutting issues — we develop a plan for three to five years for the audits we plan to do, and we base it on risk. Based on our own knowledge of departments, with discussions with senior management and outside stakeholders, we will try to identify those areas of greatest risk to the departments' achieving their objectives. Then we look to see if those areas are actually subject to audit. It may be an issue of policy, and we do not comment on policy, or areas outside of our expertise as well. From that, we develop a plan.

We share the plan with senior management in the departments. We involve them in this selection because we think that if they believe these are serious issues, they will take action on the recommendations we make.

We found that process has worked quite well. We continue to refine it as we go along and update it as circumstances change.

Senator Johnson: I am concerned about the ecosystems. In your 2002 audit of the federal government's management of aquatic invasive species, it was recommended to the department that they take certain steps in this regard, yet when it was reviewed in 2008 they had not made adequate progress, in your opinion. Also, the alien species were getting more established and exceeding the numbers.

What was the original response and what has been the problem in tackling this serious issue? Even in my region, with freshwater lakes, we are facing these issues. We never really know from one year to the next in Lake Winnipeg what aquatic species might invade, other than ones from the floods. I know it is a big problem on both sides of the country, as well as in our oceans and freshwater lakes. I find it troubling that there has been so little progress in seven years.

Mr. Vaughan: As we said in the March 2008 report, we made recommendations from the previous full audit, and the departments have accepted those recommendations. In the 2008 report, we said that with one exception there has been unsatisfactory progress on addressing, as you rightly say, an extremely serious and growing problem. This problem affects not only the viability of ecosystems. We reported in March 2008 that there are 185 known species that exist in the Great Lakes. The problem is growing, and growing faster than the ability of the federal government to understand the level of risk, because they have not done a comprehensive assessment. As well, we found their progress unsatisfactory in identifying the risk. Their systems in place are being overtaken by the introduction of new species.

Senator Johnson: They do not have a national plan for responding to the new aquatic invasive species that we are facing now.

Mr. Vaughan: Correct. What we have said is that they have made commitments in order, first, to address, and then second to understand and then third to actually manage by control systems. We noted Transport Canada on one specific and important pathway, which is marine ballast. In that, Transport Canada made progress in introducing some regulatory controls. However, we have said there is unsatisfactory progress in knowing the level of compliance in that.

Overall, we have noted that more needs to be done.

Senator Johnson: When do you think you will be looking at this again? What review would you do at another time?

Mr. Vaughan: As the Auditor General said, we are constantly looking at the overall plan and what we would be doing. Regarding the issue of alien invasive species, this afternoon I was looking at the level of magnitude in this. The U.S. government released a report on both terrestrial and marine, and they said the economic damages of alien invasive species each year cost the U.S. economy almost $140 billion. We look at level of risk, materiality in those risks, and move forward. Our office takes this very seriously, and we will be looking at a planning process now for the next two or three years.

Ms. Fraser: We have found it helpful with other committees to ask departments, when they review our reports — and this is a fairly recent report — for action plans and what departments will actually do to address the recommendations. Sometimes it is easy for departments to say they agree, and then we come back and find that little has been done. If they have concrete action plans, we can use their own action plans and the commitments they make to then do the follow-up.

To follow up a year after the report, we would probably not be able to report much progress. However, the committees could help us by getting the departments to respond with specifics as to how they will address the recommendations, and then we can go back and see if they have met those commitments.

Senator Johnson: Aquatic species are controlling our waters right now. Thank you very much. Our committee will certainly be looking at this.

The Chair: I have a supplementary on the same topic. I have two different situations in mind. Some of us heard recently about the salmon farms in British Columbia and the damage that is being done there. I gather it is quite extensive and quite hurtful to communities and to the economy.

The question I want to ask specifically is not so much about invasive species as invasive diseases. Did you deal with that in your report? I have a specific area in mind — the area between New Brunswick and Maine in Passamaquoddy Bay. On the Canadian side, there is salmon anemia. On the American side, there are organisms known as tunicates. Do not ask me to explain what they are; maybe you know.

The problem, I understand, is that the cages are quite close together. Would it make any sense to establish a buffer zone in that bay between those cages?

Ms. Fraser: I know we have an audit somewhere that talks about sea lice. I know we did some work on salmon in the commissioner's group. We can find that for you.

The Chair: I raised the British Columbia issue because we are tentatively planning a trip to B.C. in the fall, and I think we will want to know what we should be looking at there.

Ms. Fraser: We will find that reference for you. I know we did work specifically on salmon a few years ago. Mr. Potter probably knows. We can go through the work we have done and pull out what we think might be relevant to you and your committee.

The Chair: I wonder whether Mr. Potter has come across that situation.

Mr. Potter: The work you are referring to was done in 2005. I was not involved specifically in that particular work, but I know that it related to both coasts, whether there was something specifically related to the two issues you talked about.

I might also refer you to work done by the provincial Auditor General of New Brunswick concurrently with our work in 2005. That could be important to your concerns related to this. Our provincial responsibility is related to agriculture as well.

Senator Raine: Mr. Vaughan, I have heard that drag fishing is doing tremendous harm to the ocean floor and biodiversity. It is causing many problems in gathering up fish that are unintended catch, with a lot of waste going on. In many other jurisdictions, it is now illegal to drag the bottom of the ocean. I am wondering whether we have a plan to outlaw that, and if we do not, is there a reason we are allowing this practice to continue?

Mr. Vaughan: We did not look at different fishing practices within the reports that were tabled recently. I think you are absolutely right. There is now increasing emphasis, especially through the United Nations, to identify fishing practices that are unacceptable for various reasons, and dragging has devastating consequences on the ocean floor. This is now gaining a lot of momentum through different global bodies, because it essentially rips out everything. The implications and the costs in bycatch are huge, but also the disruption on the ocean floor in biodiversity and other systems is devastating as well. We did not look at this, but I would be glad to send you recent references to work that has been done on this. That work has been increasing in momentum in the last two or three years, actually.

Senator Raine: I am new to fisheries, so I am trying to gather information. I am not smart enough to know how good my sources are. They are saying that normally, if fishermen catch bycatch, they must compensate the licence holders of that catch. This is being thrown back as unmarketable catch, but they are the young fish that will grow up to be big fish that will not be caught by the licence holders. That brings up another issue of resource allocations where there are problems with access to space and fishing resources. With the establishment of marine parks, should we be looking at compensating those licence holders who are giving up their tenure, if you like, for the greater good of the nation?

Mr. Vaughan: I am new at this as well, so I may refer to either Mr. Maxwell or Mr. Potter on this. Part of this would be a policy question. To echo what the Auditor General said, the department itself would be in the best position give you their current thinking on these questions.

Globally, one of the international issues relating to ensuring that bycatch is returned is that outside an exclusive economic zone, beyond the mile limits, there are outsider, third-party inspectors to ensure that what fishermen are doing is what they say they are doing. Are fishing fleets from different countries sending back or returning the bycatch? There are many different problems related to monitoring and enforcement, especially in the high seas.

Senator Raine: My understanding is that most fishing boats are now monitored by cameras for fishing practices, except for the drag boats, which, to me, begs the big question.

Mr. Potter: We do not have any current audit work that relates specifically to that. Some of our fisheries management work dates back to early 2000 and 1999. The questions you ask are good in that they are directed towards policy issues, which the commissioner has indicated we cannot address, but these are the very questions that the Oceans Act was put in place to address. The integrated management planning was to look at the sensitive areas in the ocean that need to be protected for the long term. What are the conflicting uses of those ocean resources? How do we put in place arrangements that work towards satisfying our long-term objectives towards maximization of the resource but also protection? With the Oceans Act not getting priority from its initial enactment, these are areas where Canadians are missing the potential benefits. We think the committee might look forward to inviting the department to come forward and asking them, "What is your progress on these important parts of the Oceans Act, specifically the Oceans Action Plan, phases 1 and 2?"

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: You told us that invasive species are seen as a major problem, that their cost to the industry is significant and that Fisheries and Oceans Canada has not taken satisfactory steps to find out how many there are and the effect they are having.

We can see here that 185 foreign species can be found in the Great Lakes. Has an inventory been done?

The green crab has appeared in the Atlantic and Maritime regions. Recently, it has been found in Newfoundland and Labrador, I think, and even down our way. Fishermen are concerned.

I gather from your comments that Fisheries and Oceans Canada is not doing enough to combat this invasion.

Mr. Vaughan: That is one of the things we noted in the report. There are a number of unanswered questions.

[English]

The number of species that are arriving is basic information that should be provided. The 185 from the Great Lakes was an estimate. We said in the report that the recommendation from the previous report was that the government should prepare a comprehensive assessment. They are finding the result of that was unsatisfactory. That assessment has yet to be done. We are unable and the department is unable to answer your question as to how many actually exist today or whether the trend is increasing. I think every scientific assessment is fairly clear in saying that the trend is actually increasing, potentially by a significant amount.

Senator Robichaud: This should be a matter of urgency, should it not?

Mr. Vaughan: To repeat in relation to the other question, these have significant impacts. One of the complexities with looking at ecosystems is that the effect of a new species is that it displaces or pushes out or increases the pressure on native species, so that the connection between invasive species is having a marked or measurable effect on adding to the number of species that are now on the endangered list. It is a problem in its own right, but there are other problems because it has a domino effect. As Mr. Potter said, these systems are integrated. What happens in one part of an ecosystem will often have significant and unknown effects down the line.

Senator Robichaud: We hear about the zebra mussel and the lamprey, but there are many others, and we do not know their effects on the local stocks.

Mr. Vaughan: A study was done that estimated that within marine ballast water, meaning the ballast water in ships empty of cargo, there are 7,000 different species. Granted, when the ballast water is released not all the species are released.

The chair asked earlier about potential impacts. Many of these are micro-organisms, and many of the micro- organisms from the release can have direct health impacts on the native species. If a species that has evolved for millions of years is exposed to something it has not encountered before, the effect can be devastating.

Senator Robichaud: Is ballast water the responsibility of Transport Canada?

Mr. Vaughan: Yes, that is correct.

Senator Robichaud: They have to work with Fisheries and Oceans on that?

Mr. Vaughan: In the report we said that Transport Canada has made satisfactory progress in establishing control systems. They now have a system in place requiring ships entering Canadian waters to provide notification. A system is supposed to be in place for inspections. It is unsatisfactory in that there is no system of compliance. There is a regulatory or control system in place, but there is no means of providing assurance that the system is working. In that second part of it, we said that Transport Canada has made unsatisfactory progress.

Senator Robichaud: The Canadian Coast Guard has planes that patrol the St. Lawrence and the gulf looking for ships that dispose of waters where they should not. I do not know whether they are ballast waters, but they usually locate them by finding oil slicks. I flew with those people one time and they said they can pick up a few litres of oil that has been discharged and trace it back to the ship.

Are they looking only for oil, or would they also be looking for ballast waters?

Mr. Potter: The Department of Fisheries and Oceans enters into contracts with a company that provides multi- tasking services. They look for those sorts of things. They are also doing work related to fisheries management to determine whether fishers are in the areas where their licences allow them to fish.

There are probably other tasks are associated with that as well. The department would be best placed to give you specifics on what those planes do, but that is the arrangement they currently have.

The Chair: In our province there is a contract with Provincial Aerospace to do multi-tasking. They have specialized equipment aboard the aircraft to track ships and oil and to do other surveys as well.

That happens off the East Coast. I do not know whether there is a similar system off the West Coast. I do know that it does not happen in the Arctic. That concerned us in our study of the Coast Guard. We have things happening off the East Coast and the West Coast, but in the Arctic it is different.

For example, when we were in Iqaliut, we learned that the Coast Guard personnel there report to Sarnia, Ontario. That did not make much sense to us, and it still does not. It is the kind of issue we are dealing with.

This is somewhat the same. There are systems off the East Coast and systems off the West Coast that do not exist in the Arctic, yet problems are emerging in the Arctic that as a country we will have to deal with.

Senator Comeau: I want to follow up on Senator Raine's questions on fishing gear. The issue is aggressive nets like dragging versus more passive catching gear. Do I understand correctly that, because this is a policy decision of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, you would not get involved in an evaluation of the more aggressive methods versus the more passive?

Ms. Fraser: That is correct. We do not do evaluation of policy, per se. We can look to see whether the department has addressed these sorts of issues and how they manage risk, for example. I think the Oceans Act would take that into account. However, we ourselves do not do evaluations and then recommend what they should be doing in terms of regulation or legislation.

Senator Comeau: Would you look at whether they are looking at these? In other words, is the Fisheries and Oceans Canada looking at the two types of fishing gear, and should they be? It skirts the policy issue.

Mr. Potter: In the past we have done work related to the East Coast fisheries. As a result of responses that the department has received, they have made those types of gear more environmentally friendly, for example by putting in grates to eliminate small fish and species that are not wanted in the nets. That has been going on for quite a while, and Canada has probably led the world in technologies to minimize the impact.

As to the elimination of trawling, some fisheries, including scallops and shrimp fisheries, can be done only that way. For economic reasons you have to look at the impact as well as at the economic activity associated with that fishing.

Other fisheries use mixed techniques, and the trade-offs you are talking about can more easily be made. In our work, we do not evaluate whether they should use one or the other.

Senator Comeau: You would review whether they are in fact evaluating but not do the evaluation yourself?

Mr. Potter: Also whether they are assessing the environmental impacts of these technologies.

Senator Raine: My question was partly answered. There is new technology for overseeing things. On Google Maps you can see a person sunbathing in their backyard. Are we up to date in the use of new technology for monitoring fishing activities and ballast discharge?

Ms. Fraser: That is not specifically in our purview. As the commissioner mentioned, in this audit we said that Transport Canada had changed the framework for doing the monitoring but was not actually doing it. We would only ask whether they are doing it. If they are doing it, we might assess how well they are doing it. In this case, they were not doing it, so we did not get into the broader questions of how they could do it more effectively or efficiently.

Senator Raine: That is a question for Transport Canada?

Ms. Fraser: Yes.

Senator Watt: To whom does the Coast Guard belong? It does not seem to have any particular home or belong to any particular department. It is almost like an orphan.

Do you have any suggestions as to what recommendations this committee should make, and to whom we should make the recommendations? What will this Coast Guard turn out to be one day down the road, knowing that the responsibility is huge?

It is a changing world we are trying to adapt to. We seem to be getting behind in regard to what is happening in the Arctic specifically, and we do not have infrastructure in place to deal with the changes that confront us today.

Ms. Fraser: Currently, the Coast Guard is a special operating agency reporting to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans through the deputy minister. It is sort of a unit within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

We do not comment on what we call machinery of government. Government has the ability, and should have the ability, to organize itself as it sees fit. We can point to issues at times and the way things may be organized.

As I mentioned earlier, in some of our previous audits we talked about the difficulty with the relationship between the commissioner and the regional offices of Fisheries and Oceans, and the commissioner had a difficult role to play. That would appear to have been at least studied and addressed through the establishment of this special operating agency. However, it is really up to government to determine how they want to organize themselves and whether the agency should be attached to Fisheries and Oceans or some other department.

Senator Watt: Do you feel that due to the changing world, including the climate change that is affecting us today, the urgency is there to make that decision, whatever that decision might be at the end of the day?

Ms. Fraser: We are also careful to try not to say what we think the priorities of government should be.

Senator Watt: Put that aside.

Ms. Fraser: We will do an audit in a specific area and try to come up with recommendations on issues that we think are important and that need to be addressed, but we try to be careful not to say that government has to address this as a priority issue, or right away, because we are not necessarily cognizant of all the other challenges they may have.

That is why, when we did the audit of the Coast Guard, we said they have to establish what the priorities are and they have to develop the time frame and ensure that the resources are there to be able to implement corrective action on the issues that we identified in our audits. It is really up to government to decide what the priorities are. What we want to see, even if it takes a little longer than we might like, is that it does get done eventually, that they make a commitment and that they follow through on that.

Senator Watt: They could operate in the Arctic much more than they do today. In other words, rather than having a head office in Sarnia, if they have the actual operations and a head office in the North, they would be in a much better position to know what is happening because they would be right there.

Ms. Fraser: Again, that is not something we looked at. We did not look at how they were structured or at some of the difficulties they might have. Those are the kinds of studies they should be doing. We have to be cognizant that all of these departments have budget constraints, and the Coast Guard has certainly lived with pretty significant budget constraints for many years.

Senator Watt: On the Alaskan side, they do have a Coast Guard. They operate out of Alaska and they seem to do a pretty good job of what they ought to do, collecting necessary information that they should be collecting. Is there a precedent that you have looked at?

Ms. Fraser: We have not looked at that, no.

Senator Watt: Do you think it would be worthwhile to examine that to see if there are some equivalents?

Ms. Fraser: As was mentioned earlier, the U.S. Coast Guard has a very different role and mandate from the Canadian Coast Guard. We focus on the operational activities and the implementation of the mandate that has been given to the agency here. We can do, and have done, comparisons on certain specific elements, such as navigational aids. We looked at practices in other countries. However, on the overall mandate or how they are established, that is not something we would normally do.

Senator Watt: Regarding the aging of those vessels, I believe it states somewhere here that the icebreakers have a 40- year lifespan. I do not think the construction has begun yet. Are the icebreakers still usable? Are they still strong enough to face the ice, the impact they deal with on a constant basis?

Mr. Potter: The vessels' estimated useful life is 30 years. As you get beyond 30 years, you can extend the life by investing more money into the maintenance.

Senator Watt: Is that happening today?

Mr. Potter: That is what happens as the vessels get older. I think the commissioner has come before your committee and indicated that the fleet is becoming more costly to maintain and operate because of the aging of the equipment he has. That is a fact of life. However, as long as no structural issue emerges with a vessel, you can extend its life; and probably even there, if there is no end to the amount of money you can spend, you could extend the useful life of a piece of equipment.

The question is whether that the best decision in terms of the total cost of providing the service. Then ultimately there are other impacts, as the Auditor General has mentioned, in terms of missed fishery surveys and other consequences that arise from not being able to have a vessel when you are planning to use it.

The Chair: You said earlier that you were happy they had a business plan and that you wanted that put in place. You said that now that the Commissioner of the Coast Guard has taken some of that authority away from the regional Fisheries and Oceans offices, it was a good thing those changes had been made.

Is there a mission statement? Does the department have a long-term mission statement and vision, and should they have one? Would it not be possible, then, to judge what they are doing against a mission statement?

I do not want to answer questions as well as ask them, but we found that there really is not a long-term mission and vision statement that they have put together for themselves against which either we or you can judge things.

Mr. Potter: There may be two parts to your question. In the short term, there is the 2008 to 2011 business plan, which sets out mission statements and the mandate, exactly what they are operating within today. Am I right that you are thinking about a longer-term mission statement?

The Chair: Yes. What do they do? What are they for? What is their mission?

Mr. Potter: That is a longer-term policy review type of question, and I am not aware that that has been undertaken.

The Chair: You would not get into that aspect of it?

Ms. Fraser: No. We do note that in their business plan they state an objective and a mission. That is actually where this whole national institution, that language, comes from. We would use that to ask how they are doing that, and when we see the diversity of practice across the country, they still have a lot of work to do in that area.

Mr. Potter: This is a significant achievement for this organization, because it clearly sets out what they are trying to achieve. In many areas, it sets out quantitative targets. It sets out specifically who within the organization is to be accountable for delivering on specific initiatives. Committees like your own can call forward the commissioner or his officers and ask them about how this plan is proceeding and what is happening towards the achievement of the mandate for the organization. It lays it out very well for you.

The Chair: Thank you.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: When you conduct an audit, you look at mandates, the missions, the operations and the services that departments and agencies are responsible for delivering.

Do you meet with the clients? I am talking about fishermen's associations, the scientific community, in the case of the Coast Guard, which provides services in the summer by making an icebreaker available to them.

Do you go and see clients in order to assess their degree of satisfaction and to gather suggestions on how the goods could be better delivered, so to speak?

Ms. Fraser: In general, we meet people with an interest, but we do not necessarily measure client satisfaction. Certainly, we meet with different groups in order to get their opinions on the nature of the services offered, but I do not think I can describe those initiatives as analyses of client satisfaction. But we do meet various groups. Mr. Potter can provide more details.

Senator Robichaud: When we went to the far north, we met people who were quite satisfied. They made proposals, certainly, but they greatly appreciated the services provided by the Coast Guard in their region, given the state of the equipment and resources that they had.

[English]

Mr. Potter: During our audits, we will meet with people as best we can. It is a large country and many people are affected in this instance by the Coast Guard's services, but we try to meet with national representatives of organizations that may be impacted. Through that process, we get an idea of what issues are of concern to the stakeholders. That informs our audit, but it does not necessarily end there. We go beyond that to ensure that the areas that are covered are sufficient to cover Parliament's interest.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: I ask the question because we do not often see any mention of these meetings in your reports, do we?

Ms. Fraser: Yes, because we are evaluating or auditing the systems and practices within departments, such as the Coast Guard. As Mr. Potter said, the meetings provide us with information, they point us in certain directions, but we have to go and see how the Coast Guard operates and get documents to support that. We rarely rely simply on external interviews. We must have evidence for all the comments that we make after our audits.

Senator Robichaud: I would like to see something a little more positive, something more direct, but I understand that it is your role to be quite stern and that you have to have full documentation to support the statements and observations that you make in your reports.

[English]

Senator Watt: To follow up on the lack of the instrument that we need in the North, this is becoming a critical issue. There are many interested parties from the international communities. Whether we like it or not, I think we will be facing those people very soon due to climate change, the meltdown, and so on.

You will probably say that this is really not our responsibility. Nevertheless, I want to hear whether you are in agreement that we must do something. At least we know that we must do something in the Arctic. We are getting behind. There is no doubt in our minds about that.

If we move in the direction of putting together a group of people — and it could be scientific groups, engineering groups, or whatever — who are more specialized in the Arctic than our government is today — because regardless of what stripe that government is, we are not doing what we should be doing, as far as I am concerned — if we establish an agency or a think tank that could be accessible and make recommendations from time to time to the government, do you think that would be helpful? They would have to be funded. Without scientific money, they cannot do too much. This would be sort of a jump in the right direction to take care of something that is not being taken care of now, because we are getting further and further behind. I would like to hear your reactions on that.

Ms. Fraser: An issue that we come across consistently in most of our audits is the lack of good information to support decision making. We talk here about aquatic invasive species and about the government not always having the kinds of information they should have. Different models or different ways of getting information to deal with changing circumstances is critical, I think. How does the government decide to go out and get that information? There are various ways; however, there is a real need to have good, solid information in order to make appropriate decisions.

Senator Watt: Thank you.

The Chair: I think Senator Cook had a brief question, too.

Senator Cook: Much has been said and much more has been written. You do an audit and it is done well and to the best of your knowledge in a comprehensive fashion, but somewhere along the continuum there must be a mechanism for those you serve, the people of Canada, to be served well by that which you audit. I do not think it is enough to say that this is what we found and this is what the needs are. There must be some mechanism to nudge along the continuum, because it is about our people, the Canadian people. The cod fishery collapsed in the 1990s. Scientists did their best to manage the cod fishery in a sustainable manner, but, in the end — and, I will go out on a limb and say this — capitalist greed took that resource.

Could you help me understand? I understand your audits and your purposes, but is there not another element that could be put into the process that would help our people?

Ms. Fraser: I am not sure I am totally clear. I have two elements of response. When we do an audit, it is very important for us that parliamentarians be engaged in holding the government to account, that they take the necessary corrective action and that they commit to doing it so that we see positive change and positive impact from our audit work. We do see that departments do change and management does improve because of our audits.

If you were alluding to the fact that we should be advocates for policy, which is a question that comes up quite frequently, it would be inappropriate for an audit office to advocate policy or to comment on policy. Policy is the role of government and parliamentarians. If we were to advocate for a particular policy choice, we would lose our objectivity when we then go to audit, because we would have taken a position on a certain issue. If government chooses to do something different, we would not be viewed as credible. I truly believe that.

There are, in civil society, many groups who lobby and advocate for policy decisions. We can advocate for good management. We can advocate for good sustainable development management, good environmental management, proper spending of public funds, good accountability, governance, those kinds of things, but to get into a policy choice about whether, for example, the Coast Guard should have the kinds of functions that the U.S. Coast Guard does, would be inappropriate for us to do. That would, in many ways, be usurping the role that parliamentarians have. It should be parliamentarians who have those debates and make those broader policy choices, not an unelected official.

Senator Cook: I am not suggesting a policy function for your department. However, I guess I take some comfort from what you are saying, that your focus is clear and you maintain that. If you do it and say that often enough, those who should will listen.

Ms. Fraser: As we say, we really only have the power of recommendation, but we can nag a lot, too. We can be persistent in coming back on issues, as we do in our follow-up reports; when we see issues over years, we will keep bringing them forward.

Departments do not like coming to parliamentary committees to explain why recommendations that were made 10 years ago, to which they agreed, have not been implemented.

Certainly in my term to date, I have seen that departments do take the recommendations much more seriously because we are doing the follow-up reports and are saying whether progress is satisfactory or not. For the majority of the follow-up audits that we do, progress is satisfactory. In fact, in the last report we tabled at the end of March, we said five out of seven audits were satisfactory. Over 80 per cent of the recommendations that we issued four years ago are either fully or substantially implemented.

Things do change, but it really is about management and not about the broader policy issues.

The Chair: I see no further questions, so I would like to thank you very much for coming. You have said that you are a recommender. We understand that, because we are, too. We are not policy-makers; we are recommenders and we can nag just like you can. Tonight, you have answered some questions but have also indicated some further nagging that we must do. Therefore, you have issued some challenges tonight that we will be considering.

Ms. Fraser: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and all the members of the committee. It is always a pleasure to appear before the committee.

The Chair: Senators, before we adjourn, I will let you know that we will be meeting on Thursday morning. There are two things I would like to do on Thursday morning. We need to finalize our report and we need to look at a budget. Therefore, we will be circulating materials to you for the Thursday morning meeting.

(The committee adjourned.)