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John Weston breaks party ranks over derelict vessels bill

West Vancouver MP John Weston broke party ranks in the House of Commons last week, being the only Conservative to vote in favour of an NDP private member’s bill on derelict vessels. “Obviously it’s a rare occurrence . . .
John Weston

West Vancouver MP John Weston broke party ranks in the House of Commons last week, being the only Conservative to vote in favour of an NDP private member’s bill on derelict vessels.

“Obviously it’s a rare occurrence . . .  but I decided to vote with my constituents on the principle and importance of the matter and not on the flaws of the bill,” Weston said last Friday, one day after Nanaimo – Cowichan MP Jean Crowder’s bill was defeated in a 145-113 vote.

Crowder’s bill would have designated the Canadian Coast Guard as the receiver of wrecks and obligated the federal government to act when derelict vessels are abandoned, developing regulations for their removal, disposition or destruction.

While Weston said he voted with the opposition members because “the issue is so important to people in the riding,” he added the bill raised concerns because it would have imposed “unlimited liability” on the coast guard instead of making derelict vessel owners accountable.

“The bill was flawed, which is why it did not get more support,” he said. “Every chance I got I applauded [Crowder] for profiling the issue, but I also pointed out the bill’s flaws.”

Following the bill’s defeat, Weston announced he intends to table a private member’s bill of his own that would impose criminal and financial penalties on owners of abandoned vessels, making them subject to jail time or a fine. The money raised from fines, he said, would fund the removal costs.

“I want to focus on the people who cause the problem. I’ve already got consensus from stakeholders and some Conservative members, so it’s got good momentum.”

Weston said the bill “is the results of hours and hours of hard work with stakeholders” in the riding. “The fact that there will be jail time and financial penalties will be a strong statement,” discouraging owners from abandoning their vessels.

“I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before, but I think it’s time people were held accountable.”

Crowder, however, in an interview Friday, disagreed with Weston’s characterization of her bill and argued that his approach would not get the job done.

“Owners are still responsible for their vessels under my bill — they’re responsible right now,” she said. “But quite often you can’t locate them, or they’re dead.”

Criminalizing boat owners also won’t address the reality of Canada having a large, aging fleet and no facilities to recycle older vessels, she said.

“Some of these owners are destitute anyway, so you’re going to put them in jail or give them a heavy fine, but it doesn’t solve the problem. The vessels are still there.”

Crowder said the intent of her bill was to designate one government entity — the coast guard — to deal with the problem. Currently, wrecks can fall under the responsibility of Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans or Environment Canada, depending on the circumstances.

“It’s a real jurisdictional nightmare,” she said. As well, she denied the cost of removing wrecks would be imposed solely on the coast guard.

“They would try to track down the owner to remove the vessel, or they could contract it out. They’re doing it now.”

Crowder said she would have to read Weston’s bill before she could say whether she would support it.

See more Coast Reporter stories at coastreporter.net.