The Harper government is “putting the cart before the horse” by passing legislation that drastically changes the federal Fisheries Act, then consulting with Canadians on the new regulations that will flow from the act, an attendee at a meeting to discuss future fisheries protection said this week.
With one notable exception, though, those who attended the meeting of the Sea to Sky Fisheries Roundtable on Tuesday (July 24) at Totem Hall in Squamish said they intend to stay involved in the consultation process that’s set to unfold over the next six months, though all had questions about whether their input will be taken seriously when the rules are fleshed out.
Randall Lewis, Squamish Nation environmental co-ordinator and president of the Squamish River Watershed Society, re-stated the earlier cart-before-the-horse comment from attendee Stan Proboszc with his own analogy. “We’re smelling the exhaust of a bus that’s already left the station,” Lewis said.
Hugh Kerr, a member of the Squamish Streamkeepers, said he’s not sure whether Canadians can trust the federal government to consult meaningfully after it failed to do so before adopting Bill C-38, the omnibus budget bill that included the Fisheries Act changes.
“The government has lost a lot of trust in passing this omnibus bill and it now has to work to win it back,” Kerr said.
Said Dave Brown, Whistler-based vice-chair of the Squamish Lillooet Sportfish Advisory Group, “They’re asking us questions without telling us what they’re trying to achieve.”
John Weston, the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky MP, and Randy Kamp, parliamentary secretary to Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, assured those in attendance that their input will be taken seriously.
Weston said he wasn’t entirely sure how far up the line people’s comments will go and how they might influence future actions, but promised to find out and report back to the group. He said those involved with fisheries in the Sea to Sky Corridor are among those most likely to wield influence.
“With the track record of passion and commitment shown by this community, we are more likely to be listened to,” Weston said.
John Fraser, the former Progressive Conservative federal fisheries minister who has been a harsh critic of the government’s actions, said that as a former lawmaker, he believes in staying involved. “We don’t know what the process is yet… but if we stay involved and keep talking to [Weston] we can have an influence,” he said.
Otto Langer, the retired former Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) biologist who leaked the government’s planned changes to the media before the government announced them, said he’s not convinced of that.
“If you think [the new act] is worth consulting on, fine, but I don’t think it’s worth consulting over,” Langer said. “I don’t want to waste my life on it. I’d rather wait for a change in government.
“What they’ve done is made ideological changes to Fisheries Act because they don’t like the act,” Langer said earlier. “Industry doesn’t like it and they wanted it changed at all costs. They’ve made a mistake and now they’re trying to rationalize why they had to make that change. Now they’re trying to patch up the jugular with a few Band-Aids and it’s not going to work.”
Kerr said the problem with the new legislation is that it aims to protect fisheries instead of fish habitat. “It’s not fish that support the fishery, it’s the habitat, so right away your assumptions are just incredible,” he said.
Kamp, though, said, “This is the Fisheries Act and we think it needs to focus on the protection of fisheries — commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries — for the first time and we’re going to focus on protecting those with diligence and enthusiasm to make sure that we have resources for future generations.”