You’ve got to hand it to the ruling federal Conservatives. They’re consistent where anything to do with the environment is concerned: consistently anti-environment, consistently pro-industry, consistently shortsighted and consistently… well, wrong.
And unless Canadians raise a stink, our country’s environmental “regulations” will soon bear a striking resemblance to those of most Third World countries.
This pessimistic view of our country’s eco-future comes courtesy of a leaked report that Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield is preparing changes to the federal Fisheries Act that would eliminate wording prohibiting activities that results in the “harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat.” That would be replaced with wording that would prohibit activity that would have an “adverse effect” on “fish of economic, cultural or ecological value.”
We hope the report, leaked by former Department of Fisheries and Oceans biologist Otto Langer, is incorrect. But given the fact that it comes after Stephen Harper and his ministers tried to brand Canadians who oppose Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline as a gang of foreign radicals — even before the joint review panel conducting hearings into the proposal began — we have to take it seriously in the hope that if it’s true, public pressure can persuade Mr. Ashfield to pull the proposed changes off the table.
The minister’s office this week played coy, saying no decision has been made, but releasing a statement asserting, “Federal fisheries policies designed to protect fish are outdated and unfocused in terms of balancing environmental and economic realities.”
What’s more, the Vancouver Sun reports that a briefing note prepared for Ashfield said current Fisheries Act regulations have been “identified as one of the top federal regulatory irritants by [industrial] stakeholders across the country.”
How irritating that the big players have to demonstrate that they’re not causing net damage to fish habitat before they can proceed with their projects, eh? Last we checked, most of Europe, the United States and other developed countries had regulations that were equally stringent, if not more so. And they’re not talking about rolling them back anytime soon.
In the Tories’ skewed worldview, “balanced” legislation is too vaguely worded to give regulators the authority to protect the environment against threats from those who would exploit it for economic gain.
But don’t take it from this writer. Listen to Mr. Langer, a fisheries biologist and aquatic ecologist with 32 years working for both DFO and the Ministry of Environment who promoted the inclusion of habitat protection provisions in the Fisheries Act in 1975:
“This proposed move… is a travesty for our fishery resources and the health of the entire ecosystem and it ignores the needs of our future generations. It is little less than another attack on the biological systems that allow life to exist on this planet. To make matters worse, the political level has decided to not consult with DFO staff or the public on these proposed changes.”
Please, Mr. Ashfield, stop being coy with this and just say it ain’t so.
— David Burke