Commercial Vessel Classification and Regulations – Baddeck Ferry Services

Statements

Question Period: Baddeck Ferry Service Senator Jane Cordy June 6th, 2013

Transport

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I have spoken to Senator LeBreton privately and I have asked questions in the chamber during Question Period about the Lions Club in Baddeck and the challenges that they were facing from Transport Canada regarding the use of a pontoon boat to take passengers from the wharf in downtown Baddeck to Kidston Island. I truly appreciate the seriousness with which she looked into the issue.

Yesterday I received an email from Dan Chiasson, a lawyer from Baddeck and a member of the Baddeck Lions Club. The Lions Club has received verbal communication from Mr. William Turner, the Manager of Marine Safety, Transport Canada in Sydney, that they have approved an exemption from the required SVOP and MED A3 programs. These requirements have been replaced with a set of 15 proposed conditions which will ensure the safe operation of the pontoon vessel in Baddeck Harbour. This seems to be a sensible approach to it.

I want to thank you very much for the work you have done, and I am pleased that the pontoon boat will be in operation this summer. The problem is that the exemption is for one year only. There was no explanation as to why it is only for the summer of 2013, so I am asking if you would once again speak with the minister to see if this could be a longer-term exemption because of the importance of the service to the people of Baddeck during the summer months.

I am starting my work a little bit earlier this year — in June of 2013, for 2014 — because the time does go by very quickly. Here it is June; they had hoped to hear at least by May in order to make their plans. The Lions Club of Baddeck is a service club made up of volunteers from the community, and it is very frustrating for them to believe that they cannot make plans beyond this summer.

If you could speak to the minister again and start the process for the summer of 2014, and hopefully for at least a few summers, that would be very helpful.

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Thank you, Senator Cordy. I will absolutely start now. I think there were some regulations on the books at Transport Canada that had been there for some time, I understand, and a decision was made in the bureaucracy to implement some of these without thinking of the effect on organizations such as the Lions Club in Baddeck. Certainly, this impacted a lot of people who run summer camps.

The directive that you refer to, which was sent out by the Minister of Transport, was to address the immediate need. However, I do agree with you, Senator Cordy, that while it resolves the issue for this year, we should not wait until this time next year. I will most definitely follow up and make an inquiry with the Minister of Transport.

I think one of the problems was that regulations that were meant for much larger operations impacted on much smaller operations. I most certainly will follow up, Senator Cordy.

Senator Cordy: I would appreciate that because these are not vessels operating on the high seas in the middle of the winter storms; these are small pontoon boats carrying people for 300 metres. I do believe that it is due to your work that the approval process for the exemption this summer has happened, but if every year the Lions Club has to wait until June to get an exemption, and if they have to go through this process every year, it will become too cumbersome for the volunteers to deal with over and over again.

As I stated previously in the chamber, the ferry service takes people from the wharf in Baddeck to the beach on Kidston Island. This is a distance of 300 metres, in a sheltered harbour, in the summertime, and only in nice weather. To have this pontoon boat follow a commercial vessel classification seems unrealistic. The Lions Club will be working with Transport Canada this summer, who will be assisting in ensuring full compliance with the safety requirements brought in and they are happy to do this.

Again I thank you and ask if you could continue to monitor the file with the minister and stress the importance of a long-term plan that would be very helpful to the people of the beautiful village of Baddeck.

Senator LeBreton: Thank you, Senator Cordy. You are quite right. When I was looking into this, there had been several incidents over the past 10 years where there were some serious accidents with ferry types of boats. There was one in Georgian Bay. There were three incidents, I think, where many people lost their lives.

A little common sense prevailed and regulations were brought in — at least this is how it was explained to me — to address the concerns of those larger boats. You are quite right. I had a situation brought to my attention, a situation on the Rideau River, with 5- or 10-foot waves crossing an area of a couple hundred metres.

I do agree that a little common sense and realistic implementation of rules is in order here, so I most definitely will follow up, not only because I do not want to have to get up next year, Senator Cordy, and have to say I will look into it again. Hopefully by then we will have regulations in place that actually take into account the much smaller operators, especially those like the Lions Club and the summer camps that were affected by this as well.