Sacrificing the Fisheries Act in the name of Industry

After nearly a year and a half of living in legislative limbo, Canada’s new-look Fisheries Act came in to full force on November 25, 2013 [1]. As part of the wide-sweeping changes to come to Canada’s environmental legislation under Bills C-38 and C-45, the laws protecting Canadian fish and fish habitat have been left gutted. What triggered these amendments? Why, simply a few words from Canadian industry!

In 2010, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans hired a consulting firm to gather “interested parties” opinions of the Fisheries Act. The report, completed by the consulting firm High Park Group, revealed the opinions of 23 industry and business organizations: the Fisheries Act “was too unpredictable; it caused considerable barriers to infrastructure investment, and it increased regulatory costs and timelines” [2]. With the goal of improving efficiency and removing barriers to project investment, the Fisheries Act was placed squarely in the sights of pro-industry reform.

In its original form, Section 35(1) was the heart of the legislation. With habitat protection at its core, Section 35(1) stated that “No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity that results in the harmful alteration or disruption, or the destruction, of fish habitat” [3, p. 16]. The industry-friendly version of Section 35(1) now reads: “No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity that results in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery” [4, p. 63]. There are two key elements to this amendment. First is the substitution of ‘serious harm’ for ‘harmful alteration or disruption, or destruction.’ This implies a threshold requirement of serious harm before enforcement is triggered. Second, limiting the inclusive protection offered to all Canadian ‘fish habitat’ to protection for only ‘commercial, recreational or Aboriginal’ fisheries implements a restrictive scope directed solely at recognized fisheries.

In addition to restricting the protection of Canada’s fish habitat, amendments to the Fisheries Act dangerously empower project proponents during the operation phase. Section 38(4) specifies that it is the responsibility of the person who “owns or has the charge, management or control of the work, undertaking or activity that resulted in the occurrence or the danger of the occurrence” to notify the authorities [4, p. 65]. With this amendment, the Canadian government has given industry parties the power to report (or not) their own mistakes. Should the Canadian public simply assume that all proponents will genuinely report their faults? The government certainly seems to.

Has the Canadian government really become so desperate to attract industry that they are willing to sacrifice environmental protection for investment? Or are industry parties simply calling the shots now?

http://www.cbc.ca/player/Embedded-Only/News/ID/2324285989/

Most shameful within this situation is the fact that Canada’s resource bank is becoming increasingly more valuable within world markets. As global natural resources become progressively scarcer, Canada’s vast resource base will become more and more attractive to outside investors, and thus more and more lucrative to possess.

My question is: why mortgage Canada’s future for less profitable gains today, and combine it with an increased likelihood of environmental catastrophe?

I should hope that the decisions our government is making, decisions that affect the futures of all Canadians, have more than selfish and short-term objectives at heart.

References

[1]  Fisheries and Oceans Canada. (2013, November 25). Changes to the Fisheries Act. Retrieved January 21, 2014, from http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/pnw-ppe/changes-changements/index-eng.html

[2]  Galloway, G. (2013, August 6). Controversial changes to Fisheries Act guided by industry demands. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved October 12, 2013, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/fisheries-act-change-guided-by-industry/article13606358/

[3]  Canada. Fisheries Act (1985). Retrieved from http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/F-14.pdf

[4]  Government of Canada; F. and O. Consolidated federal laws of Canada, Fisheries Act (2012). Retrieved from http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/F-14.pdf

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