March 23, 1979

PC

J. Michael Forrestall

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Forrestall:

Mr. Speaker, six days is too long to gamble on an environmental hazard created by the wiles of the ice-packs in the Cabot Strait and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the weather, particularly at this time of year.

Why did the government have to wait? Why could it not deal with the legal problems with more dispatch? Is it because neither the minister's department nor the Department of the Environment have adequate statutory authority to deal with matters of this nature with much greater dispatch? Was it a technical, or a legal problem that caused the undue delay?

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   TRANSPORT
Sub-subtopic:   TIMING OF DECISION TO SALVAGE OIL TANKER "KURDISTAN"
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LIB

Otto Emil Lang (Minister of Transport; Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board)

Liberal

Mr. Lang:

It was a combination of things, Mr. Speaker; but I do not grant for a moment that there was undue delay. It was a very serious decision to take, to allow a vessel which had suffered any kind of mishap to come alongside the Canadian coastline with a cargo of oil on board.

We wanted to be sure on the technical basis that the risk was small. We also wanted to have complete protection from a legal point of view in relation to any possible costs and damage even though it was small. Experts in relation to this kind of contract came together from quite a few different places in the world, experts who had been associated with a similar event in Rotterdam and the like.

The question of negotiation and the extent of liability which we would insist upon were important questions on which I wanted to be satisfied. In the meantime, however, it was not as though the time was being lost. The vessel was put under tow. At first, while there was a question about the adequacy of the stern to survive the seas, it was being moved in an outward direction toward deeper water. When it became apparent that salvage was distinctly possible, and having regard to winds in any case, the direction of the tow was changed: it moved toward the Port Hawkesbury destination. When the critical point was reached where it would have been necessary to turn either out to the sea or in toward the bay, the decision had already been made.

Therefore, while the legal matters did take some time, it was not as though time was lost. I hope the hon. member will agree with us that in making a most serious decision involving an

element of risk it was necessary to be sure as to the size of that risk and be completely protected from the legal and financial points of view.

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   TRANSPORT
Sub-subtopic:   TIMING OF DECISION TO SALVAGE OIL TANKER "KURDISTAN"
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PC

J. Michael Forrestall

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Forrestall:

The minister's response is totally inadequate, of course. Six days is far too long to gamble on ice and weather conditions in the Guif of St. Lawrence, and the minister knows it.

May I direct a final question to the Acting Prime Minister, whoever he may be today, and ask whether in his view it would be worth while, once the formal investigation into this matter has been completed, to refer this whole question to an appropriate standing committee of the House in order to determine whether the existing statutory authority available to the Minister of Transport and to the Minister of State for the Eviron-ment is adequate to enable them to cope with disasters of this nature with much more dispatch than we have seen in the last week?

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   TRANSPORT
Sub-subtopic:   TIMING OF DECISION TO SALVAGE OIL TANKER "KURDISTAN"
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LIB

Otto Emil Lang (Minister of Transport; Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board)

Liberal

Mr. Lang:

Obviously, in the course of examining the alternatives available to us we have begun to draw some conclusions about our powers and the exact legal situation in a variety of very difficult circumstances. I would think that, as a result, we would be coming forward in due course with some changes.

I do not think we needed a different set of powers in the situation which actually faced us, but as we reviewed alternative circumstances, when we were not sure what those circumstances would be, I was concerned about the extent of our powers and I will want to propose some legislative changes.

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   TRANSPORT
Sub-subtopic:   TIMING OF DECISION TO SALVAGE OIL TANKER "KURDISTAN"
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ICE SURVEILLANCE CAPABILITY IN GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE

PC

James Aloysius McGrath

Progressive Conservative

Mr. James A. McGrath (St. John's East):

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if I might direct some supplementary questions to the born-again Minister of Transport. The same ice conditions that are compounding the threat to the tanker Kurdistan have caused the entire CN ferry fleet to be stuck in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with 317 passengers stranded on three ships. A fourth, the Frederick Carter, left port this morning only to be caught in the ice a short time later.

Where is our ice surveillance capability? Why would these ships leave port, knowing that the wind has not changed, knowing full well they will be stuck in the ice, knowing full well we do not have the ice-breaking capacity to free them? Why would the coastguard allow this to happen?

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ICE SURVEILLANCE CAPABILITY IN GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE
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LIB

Otto Emil Lang (Minister of Transport; Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board)

Liberal

Hon. Otto E. Lang (Minister of Transport):

Essentially, I think, because of the hope in each case that the trip might be completed. A good deal of our ice-breaker strength is, of course, in the vicinity. These vessels are helping in every way they can. Obviously, there are people waiting to board the ferries, and if there is any chance at all I am sure they move out.

I have not inquired into the exact circumstances of the departure of each vessel, which is probably what the hon. member has in mind. After all, this involves a judgment by

March 23, 1979

local management and those who operate the vessels, no doubt in response to the needs of people who want to make the crossing.

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ICE SURVEILLANCE CAPABILITY IN GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE
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PC

James Aloysius McGrath

Progressive Conservative

Mr. McGrath:

I am astounded at the minister's reply. One of these ships, the Robert Bond, with 60 passengers aboard, has been stuck in the ice since 2 o'clock last Monday. Surely the Canadian coastguard has some jurisdiction. Surely it must have weather data at its disposal; it must have knowledge of ice conditions. After all, ice is not unknown in the Cabot Strait at this time of year: perhaps the minister does not know that.

Why has this situation been allowed to arise? Why has it been allowed to get worse, with people stranded at Port aux Basques and Sydney, with another ferry leaving this morning? Surely the coastguard must have some jurisdiction here and, if not, why not?

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ICE SURVEILLANCE CAPABILITY IN GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE
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LIB

Otto Emil Lang (Minister of Transport; Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board)

Liberal

Mr. Lang:

The coastguard is certainly in operation in connection with this exercise. The Labrador and the St. Laurent are there, hard at work in an effort to free these vessels. 1 cannot understand the hon. member's logic. He is critical of the fact that passengers are stranded at Sydney and Port aux Basques. At the same time he is critical of the fact that vessels move out when we should know that at this time of year there is ice in the strait. Is he suggesting that we cancel service cross the strait at certain times of the year because there may be ice? I think that is a rather ridiculous suggestion.

I suggest that the right thing is to rely on the judgment of the people who are operating the vessels and who expect that, with coastguard help, they may be able to get through. When, suddenly, very difficult winds trap vessels which are ordinarily capable of managing the ice, obviously there is a difficulty. But I do not think the hon. member has any solution, unless he wants to build airports at each end as well.

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ICE SURVEILLANCE CAPABILITY IN GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE
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PC

James Aloysius McGrath

Progressive Conservative

Mr. McGrath:

Mr. Speaker, we are not dealing with a hypothetical situation; we are dealing with ice which has been there since last Monday. One ferry has been stuck since last Monday, yet CN continues to accept passengers, knowing the weather has not changed and knowing ice conditions are still the same. Ships are still allowed to leave the port, knowing full well that a short while after leaving either Port aux Basques or Sydney they will be caught in the ice.

What does the minister intend to do about it? Does he intend to put in place some kind of ice surveillance capability which would say to CN, "Sorry, you cannot leave today because the ice has packed in, the wind is not changing and you are going to be stuck"? Why does the Canadian coastguard not provide that kind of service?

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ICE SURVEILLANCE CAPABILITY IN GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE
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LIB

Otto Emil Lang (Minister of Transport; Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board)

Liberal

Mr. Lang:

Mr. Speaker, I suppose one thing I can be sure of is that if passengers were not allowed to board a vessel to make the crossing because somebody said there was ice out there, and then because of a sudden change of winds, vessels were able to move across that strait, the hon. member for St. John's East would be criticizing the failure to move those passengers.

Oral Questions

The fact is that, at least as informed as I am, wind and ice conditions can change very quickly in terms of whether vessels can move through, and that can happen between the time of departure and the time of arrival. As I say, I am not an expert on whether these vessels should move out to sea.

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ICE SURVEILLANCE CAPABILITY IN GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE
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?

Donald Stovel Macdonald

Miss MacDonald:

You sure are not.

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ICE SURVEILLANCE CAPABILITY IN GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE
Permalink
LIB

Otto Emil Lang (Minister of Transport; Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board)

Liberal

Mr. Lang:

The hon. lady for Kingston and the Islands says I am not. I said I am not; therefore I have some trust and faith in the captains of the vessels and the operators of the system.

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ICE SURVEILLANCE CAPABILITY IN GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE
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?

Some hon. Members:

Hear, hear!

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ICE SURVEILLANCE CAPABILITY IN GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE
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ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS

NDP

Reginald Cyril Symes

New Democratic Party

Mr. Cyril Symes (Sault Ste. Marie):

Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of State (Environment) and it relates to the Kurdistan incident.

In view of the concern expressed by fishermen in the Canso Strait area that the federal government has allowed the stern section of the oil tanker Kurdistan to be towed towards Chedabucto Bay, and given the discovery of a new oil slick in the area, can the minister explain why the towing commenced, given the dangerous ice conditions in the bay and the real threat of pollution on the beaches and in the fishing grounds? Many of us fear that the value of the cargo is taking precedence over safety of the environment.

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS
Sub-subtopic:   THREAT OF OIL POLLUTION TO FISHERY AND BEACHES IN TOWING "KURDISTAN"
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LIB

Len Marchand (Minister of State (Environment))

Liberal

Hon. Len Marchand (Minister of State (Environment)):

Mr. Speaker, environmentally, all factors were evaluated. A number of other ports were evaluated as well. In the view of my officials who are on the scene, as well as in the view of Environment Nova Scotia, the Department of Fisheries and the Department of Transport, the route to Port Hawkesbury, with all of the conditions which the salvor would have to agree to, was the safest one to take.

It was the view of our officials that with the appropriate icebreaking equipment on hand, there really was no environmental risk or, at least, that the risk if any was really very minimal.

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS
Sub-subtopic:   THREAT OF OIL POLLUTION TO FISHERY AND BEACHES IN TOWING "KURDISTAN"
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NDP

Reginald Cyril Symes

New Democratic Party

Mr. Symes:

Mr. Speaker, in light of that answer, I wonder if the minister can explain reports in the media this morning that the plans to tow the tanker to Port Hawkesbury have been abandoned because officials of the oil industry say it is too dangerous to move it through the dangerous ice conditions in the bay for unloading at Hawkesbury. I would like the minister to inform the House whether this is true or not.

In addition, given the past experience of the Arrow oil spill disaster, can the minister explain why it has taken so long- over six days-to determine what course of action to take? It seems to me that this is an indication that the government is not well prepared.

March 23, 1979

Oral Questions

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS
Sub-subtopic:   THREAT OF OIL POLLUTION TO FISHERY AND BEACHES IN TOWING "KURDISTAN"
Permalink
LIB

Len Marchand (Minister of State (Environment))

Liberal

Mr. Marchand:

Mr. Speaker, I am checking on the validity of those press reports. It is my understanding that all appropriate arrangements have been made for the stern once it arrives at Port Hawkesbury. I think my colleague, the Minister of Transport, explained very clearly, in an answer he gave earlier to the hon. member for Dartmouth-Halifax East, why it took six days. Those six days were not all lost by doing nothing. It took some time for both the stern and the bow sections to be in a position which would allow a decision to be made.

If the hon. member will recall, the weather conditions were absolutely awful in the whole area and a lot of danger was involved. If the decision had been taken to tow the vessel into deep water, they would have been bucking severe weather conditions. There is a possibility it could not have been done, two lines could have broken, and so on. So the decision was made that the best possible solution was to attach tugs to both the stern and the bow sections and try to nurse them along in the best way possible until a decision was made. Now a decision has been made and we are just waiting for the fog to clear at Chedabucto Bay so that the stern can be brought safely into Port Hawkesbury.

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS
Sub-subtopic:   THREAT OF OIL POLLUTION TO FISHERY AND BEACHES IN TOWING "KURDISTAN"
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NDP

Reginald Cyril Symes

New Democratic Party

Mr. Symes:

Mr. Speaker, again I worry about the safety aspects, since the reports say that a new oil slick has been sighted. If the government intends to proceed to tow the stern into the bay, then indeed the fishery may be in danger.

My final supplementary is this: The minister says that all the legal ramifications and the insurance problems explain the six-day delay in coming to a decision as to which way to tow the stern. Surely the minister would agree that, in light of the Arrow incident, his department should have had regulations in place so there would not be this delay in terms of determining liability and what the insurance results would be.

Topic:   ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Subtopic:   ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS
Sub-subtopic:   THREAT OF OIL POLLUTION TO FISHERY AND BEACHES IN TOWING "KURDISTAN"
Permalink

March 23, 1979