Harper Conservatives planning to gut Fisheries Act: “this is huge”
In yet another shocking display of antipathy towards all things environmental, Canada’s Conservative government is widely suspected to be planning to gut key conservation provisions of the country’s Fisheries Act.
Otto Langer, a retired biologist who used to work for Fisheries and Oceans Canada said he received leaked information that the Conservatives are proposing to remove the term “habitat” from the Fisheries Act, which is the nation’s most significant and oldest piece of environmental legislation. According to Langer, the change would now read: “no person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity other than fishing, that results in an adverse effect on a fish of economic, cultural or ecological value.”
The NDP’s Fisheries and Oceans critic, Fin Donnelly, has not been able to receive any details about the proposed changes from the Fisheries Minister, Keith Ashfield. “They are obviously keeping this secret,” said Donnelly. “This is huge. This is one of the biggest things that I’ve seen. … Now they are removing a key element of the Fisheries Act that protects the fishery and the marine ecosystem. They are doing it without consultation and without consulting their own departments involved. As far as I know, many of the departmental scientists and bureaucrats are unaware of this.”
More than 625 Canadian scientists have mobilized in opposition to the proposed changes, including the world famous ecologist David Schindler, demanding that the Canadian government abandon its plans. Comparing the division of fish into valuable and non-valuable species to the Nazi idea that some humans are more racially fit than others, Schindler told The Tyee, “It’s exactly like eugenics. It’s a stupid idea. What do they think all these commercially important fish eat? Did they ask the fish who is fit and unfit and which fish is of ecological value?”
And as Queen’s biologist John Smol pointed out, given the multiplication of stresses on rivers and waterways including nutrient pollution, climate change, and invading species, the act should be strengthened, not weakened. Don’t hold your breath. Not under this government.
Of course, many observers believe the real reason for the rumoured changes is to facilitate approvals for tar sands projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which would have to cross more than 600 rivers and streams on its way from northern Alberta to the coast of B.C., threatening vital fish habitat with the very real possibility of a pipeline spill.
What will it take before Canadians wake up to the agenda of this government, the most right-wing, anti-environmental gang of thugs in Canadian history? Since 2009, the government of Stephen Harper has weakened the Navigable Waters Protection Act, exempted big infrastructure projects from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and repeatedly downgraded commitments to address atmospheric pollution and climate change. Environment Minister Peter Kent is being sued for refusing to uphold the Species At Risk Act and protect woodland caribou in northern Alberta in the oil sands region. Even the prestigious journal Nature has weighed in, strongly condemning the extent to which the Harper government has muzzled its scientists and demanding that it was “time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free.”
The next federal election is in 2015 so we still have 3 more years, at least, of this kind of nonsense. How much damage will be done before this band of adolescent impostors (39% majority!) is finally given the boot? Will the opposition parties get their collective acts together in time to recognize the threat this government poses? With the election of Thomas Mulcair as the new and seemingly capable leader of the NDP, one can only hope.