Dogpatch solution dies on Parliament Hill

MP Jean Crowder's attempt to address derelict vessels shut down in the House of Commons

Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair

Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair

Drop the word “Ladysmith” around a winter traveller and the enthusiastic response will be “Light Up!”

Say it to a summer tourist and you might get a “Transfer Beach!” in reply.

Mention it to a boater?

“Dogpatch.”

It’s a reputation earned by the largest collection of derelict boats on the West Coast and one that is not going to be erased any time soon, not after new regulations proposed by Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder crashed and burned on Parliament Hill Wednesday.

Derelict boats posing economic and environmental hazards are left to rot along both coastlines through lack of regulation. Crowder had put a private members’ bill before Parliament intended to assign power and responsibility for their removal, disposition or destruction into the hands of the Coast Guard.

“This bill received strong support from British Columbians,” she said, “Conservatives ignored that support, and voted down a piece of legislation that would protect British Columbia’s coast from abandoned derelict vessels which are a hazard to safety and the environment.”

Crowder staged a media conference on Slack Beach in front of the Dogpatch on Thursday to draw attention to the issue in the wake of the vote’s failure.

She was joined by NDP national leader Thomas Mulcair and Nanaimo-Ladysmith federal candidate Sheila Malcolmson at the event.

“They’ve voted against a bill that’s all about public protection and protecting the environment,” Mulcair said.

Stz’uminus Chief John Elliott and Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone were also on scene Thursday in attempt to draw attention to the issue.

Stone talked about all the work Ladysmith has put into making the harbour more attractive to encourage tourism and investment and how the ramshackle pile of derelicts works against those efforts.

Elliott echoed those thoughts and pointed out how the issue crosses all jurisdictional boundaries. It can be as simple as a Dogpatch boat breaking anchor and foundering on a beach across the harbour, or as nasty as a fuel leak poisoning aquaculture.

Malcolmson said federal regulation is essential because if one community is successful in removing boats, they generally just move to the next one along the coastline.

Crowder’s bill earned the unanimous support from the NDP, the Greens and the Liberals. It died when it failed to gain the support of all but one Conservative MP. The Conservatives said the bill required the government to spend money and took power away from Transport Canada — two concerns Crowder denied.

Malcolmson said a Transport Canada investigation into derelict vessels put Ladysmith Harbour at the top of the list with 44 boats. Bowen Island was second. Its MP, John Weston, was the only Conservative MP in favour of Crowder’s bill.

Malcolmson is frustrated the bill has been under discussion for 10 years, has the endorsement of coastal communities and is based on models that have worked in other jurisdictions, yet the government still hasn’t seen fit to make it a priority.

The next step, she said, is up to the voters.

“Economy, ecology, tourism, shellfish farming — all of this takes a hit when these things don’t get dealt with quickly, or get dealt with at all,” she said. “The short answer is to change the government to another government that will bring in a bill to fix the hole.”