What did you think about when you got up this morning? I was putting the finishing touches on a new website. You were doing something else. It’s safe to say that neither of us was thinking about abandoned vessels.
But the saga of this problem, its snarling of government processes, the waste it caused, and the environmental damage - called out for change. Here’s what some of us did - and why persistence and good strategy can pay off to change government policy and make things right.
As Member of Parliament, I saw the blight caused by irresponsible people who dumped their boats like parkland litter. They left a trail of pollution, eyesores, harmful waste, and legal liability. Directionless governments floundered to assert or evade responsibility. In one case, a single person acquired and casually abandoned four separate vessels off the coast of Squamish, B.C.
I introduced Private Member’s Bill C-695 in the House of Commons in 2015, reflecting input from a wide variety of people who cared about the health of our seas, tourism, navigational safety, and saving taxpayers’ funds. The issue seemed intractable, cutting across various departments within the Federal and provincial governments, as well as local government jurisdiction. Governments were loath to take responsibility. Abandoned vessels can be costly to remove and give rise to various types of liability. My Bill proposed for the first time that anyone who intentionally abandoned a vessel be subject to a fine or jail term. It attracted support from mariners, local governments, the Transport Minister, the Conservative Party of Canada, and even my Liberal opponent in the last election.
The Bill didn’t pass - it died with the last Federal Government, in June 2015. But the story has a positive outcome. The current Liberal Government contributed formal funding to deal with the problem. It created a program to educate boat owners how responsibly to manage and recycle their vessels, rather than merely abandon them. And in October of this year, it introduced legislation to do exactly what my bill proposed - make persons accountable for their actions. The new Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act will for the first time make it explicitly illegal to abandon boats, while empowering the government to go after the owners of the 600 derelict vessels already polluting the country’s waterways.
If the bill becomes law, Individuals who abandon a boat can face fines up to $300,000 and a six-month jail term, while corporations can be fined as much as $6 million.
People and companies who share my concerns about government and public affairs should take heart. With perseverance, good strategy, and the collaboration of like-minded allies, you can change even the most complicated of government policies.
I hope readers enjoy a 2018 filled with health and happiness and, before that, a wonderful Christmas. Us? Our family will gather in both Ottawa and West Vancouver to celebrate this special season.