Fin in the News "New Fisheries Act Promised"

By Staff, Blacklock's Reporter

Cabinet will introduce legislation by July 1, 2017 to restore full environmental protections in the Fisheries Act. Conservative amendments enacted four years ago were “an abuse of process”, said Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

“To say there was a review of the Fisheries Act changes I think would be a pretty gross exaggeration,” said LeBlanc. “These were measures that were largely buried in an omnibus budget bill, hundreds and hundreds of pages long.”

Section 35 of the Act previously banned any activity “that results in the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.” Parliament in 2012 narrowed the terms to regulate only “serious harm” affecting species.

The amendments were inserted into a 452-page omnibus budget bill that passed the House under closure and sped through the Senate in eleven days before it was signed into law. The 2012 bill also repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and narrowed protections under the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Testifying yesterday at the Commons fisheries committee, LeBlanc said the amendments “stripped out and weakened some of the environmental protections.” Budget cuts at the time also saw the closure of 47 of 63 fish habitat offices and elimination of 170 staff, LeBlanc said. “That speaks to public confidence,” he said, adding more than 100 researchers have been rehired to date.

“My hope is in a perfect world we will have legislation we can table before the end of the spring sitting of Parliament in 2017,” Leblanc said; “I recognize the frustration that people have, but we didn’t want to just cut and paste what was there before.”

“Drag On And Drag On”

MP Fin Donnelly (Port Moody-Coquitlam, B.C.), New Democrat fisheries critic, noted 35 environmental groups and 10,000 petitioners have appealed to cabinet to restore the Act. “It’s been over a year since the election and we still have the 2012 gutted Fisheries Act,” said Donnelly.

“To take a year-and-a-half to do that is unacceptable,” said Donnelly; “We have major energy projects and other projects going through municipalities that are being approved under the gutted Fisheries Act with less habitat protection.”

“We share their concerns,” said Minister LeBlanc. “We don’t see this as an interminable process or something that should drag on and drag on.”

MP Robert Sopuck (Dauphin-Swan River), Conservative wildlife critic, defended the 2012 amendments. “The changes we made to the Fisheries Act were a great relief to the agricultural community,” he said.

“What quantitative evidence is there that the changes to the Fisheries Act had any measurable effect on any fish population in Canada?” asked Sopuck, a fisheries biologist. “We don’t have specific data quantitatively in terms of impact,” replied Kevin Stringer, senior assistant deputy minister for fisheries minister.

“There is no evidence whatsoever,” said Sopuck; “Not a word about the effect on fish. I’m a simple man. I think this is all about fish. Maybe that’s too simplistic.”

The fisheries committee is to report on proposed changes to the Act by January 30, 2017. The committee is accepting public submissions till November 30.