NDP's Gord Johns furious over hold up of funds intended for cleanup near Tofino and Ucluelet

Gord Johns in the News

Source: The Westerly News

Local MP Gord Johns is flummoxed by how long funds earmarked for cleanup efforts around Tofino and Ucluelet have spent frozen in Ottawa.

About 35 shipping containers spilled off a South Korean cargo ship that was passing Long Beach on its way to Seattle in November. While the spilled containers were empty, they spread a mess across the West Coast's shores as their styrofoam insulation was torn apart.

The ship's owner, Hanjin Shipping, was in bankruptcy proceedings at the time and, according to Johns, a South Korean bankruptcy court awarded $72,000 to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to help tackle the mess.

"This money's been sitting with Parks Canada and gotten caught up with a bunch of bureaucrats that don't know what to do," Johns told the Westerly News. "I'm calling on the [federal] government to get that money released. Get it to British Columbia, where it belongs, and into the hands of the people that deserve to have that money so they're resourced to continue to do the good work that they're doing."

In the days following the incident, local volunteer organizations, like Surfrider Pacific Rim, hosted cleanup events to clear the ship's debris and Johns wants to see those groups compensated for their efforts and armed with the resources needed to continue their work.

"The only reason any of the debris has been removed from the coastline is because of the community volunteers. Volunteers are out of pocket when it comes to the fuel, equipment rentals, food, coffee and all the other expenses related to the cleanups," he said. "Why is it that, four months later, there's still no process in place to release the designated money?"

He added the ship's spilled debris remains in remote areas, like the Broken Group Islands, that volunteers are trying to get to.

"It's all over the place," he said. "This stuff's still spreading and a lot of it is still on the beaches. If that money is released, it will actually give them resources to go and finish the cleanup."

He clarified his frustration over the frozen funds is not with the Pacific Rim National Park, but with the federal government.

"It's bureaucrats in Ottawa that need to get this money off the table," he said.

"We've got great staff at Parks Canada. They did a tremendous job. They were heroes in how they responded to this. They are totally understaffed and under-resourced...This is the disconnect of how far Ottawa is from the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and the community members that support the Park and care about the Park and show up when the Park needs them and calls on them to come out and protect our environment."

He said the Hanjin incident is not an isolated one and he hopes the attention it's drawn will motivate federal action.

"It's situations like this that show we need to step up our game to protect our oceans and coastlines from marine debris," he said. "Our oceans are really becoming a garbage dump and are at risk of containing more plastic than fish. The PCB [polychlorinated biphenyls] levels in our orcas and other marine species are going through the roof."

He added it's an important topic to focus on because increased trade has brought increased traffic.

"British Columbians are on the front line of this trade 'success story,' if you want to call it that, with North America and Asia. It's British Columbians and coastal communities that are taking the brunt of the environmental fallout of the debris that's spreading," he said.

"There's more cargo ships in our waters, more debris in our waters, more debris on our beaches and no mechanism or commitment from the government to cleanup the garbage....We're investing in global trade and we need to match that investment with protection for our coast. We need a mechanism that meets the volume of trade that we're doing and the impact it's having on our shores."

He said organizations like Surfrider rely on local donations to survive and an avenue must be created for those organizations to be compensated for their cleanup efforts in the wake of environmental mishaps by commercial transport companies.

"It should be a lesson for us to come up with some tool or mechanism so that if this happens again tomorrow, we can get to work on it and we can activate those organizations and they've got some resources in their coffers, instead of going back to the business community and asking them to donate more money," he said.

"We don't want British Columbians and Canadians to be left on the hook for debris and garbage dumped into our waters by international vessels and we need to come up with a better solution."