Federal omnibus bill is part of assault on fish stocks

Environmentalists say the Harper government is dismantling federal protection of lakes and rivers.

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      Environmentalists are accusing the federal government of waging a war on fish.

      They say it started with Bill C-38. The first of two omnibus budget-implementation bills introduced this year and approved over the summer, the legislation gutted habitat protections provided under the Fisheries Act.

      Now, according to critics, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government are ditching federal oversight of 99 percent of the country’s lakes and rivers. This will be made possible by Bill C-45, the second omnibus budget bill, which was introduced in the House of Commons in October.

      “It’s a double whammy against fish,” marine biologist Otto Langer told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      A former scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Langer said there’s a lot at stake with the proposed rewriting of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, one of several legislative changes contained in Bill C-45.

      The NWPA provides federal regulatory oversight over infrastructure projects like bridges on waterways where one can paddle a canoe. The law will be changed into the proposed Navigation Protection Act, which will cover three oceans and only 97 lakes and sections of 62 rivers across the entire country.

      “Now you’re not going to do any environmental review on a lot of works [projects] that will harm navigation and fish habitat,” Langer said. “Generally if something interferes with a kayak or a canoe or boat going down the river, you would be pretty certain that it’s going to interfere with fish habitat.”

      Transport Canada maintains that under the current law, federal approval is needed on every project involving waterways, creating delays and slowing down work. The department didn’t make a spokesperson available for comment before the Straight’s deadline.

      Although the NWPA was originally intended to facilitate navigation in the country, Joe Foy explained that the law has become one of the measures that can trigger a federal environmental assessment. This means projects requiring a permit under the NWPA have to undergo a review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. This process entails gathering input from different federal agencies, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

      But according to Foy, who is the national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee, that mechanism has been taken away by the Harper government. Due to the passage of Bill C-38, NWPA–related projects will no longer automatically trigger a federal environmental assessment.

      “By making it less likely that there will be an environmental assessment, it may mean that projects are approved without oversight,” Foy told the Straight by phone. “And that would be bad for fish.”

      In a legal backgrounder published in October, Ecojustice notes that Canada has at least 32,000 lakes and over two million rivers. The environmental-defence group points out that the proposed Navigation Protection Act will exclude 99.7 percent of lakes and more than 99.9 percent of rivers from federal oversight.

      Ecojustice also states that the list of lakes and rivers that will continue to be regulated federally does not include the Kitimat and upper Fraser rivers in B.C. These waterways lie in the path of the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline from Alberta to B.C.’s north coast.

      According to Transport Canada, other legislation will continue to provide environmental protection for waterways. Under the proposed law, proponents of infrastructure projects in unlisted waters have the option to seek federal approval. Meanwhile, the government is also expanding the list of so-called minor works that are exempt from review. This list was put together in 2009 when the Conservative government made some amendments to the current legislation.

      Fin Donnelly, the NDP MP for New Westminster–Coquitlam, doesn’t buy the government’s line that the impending changes to the waterways law only have to do with navigation.

      “It’s a similar line that they used with the changes to the Fisheries Act: that it had to do with farmers’ fields and drainage ditches, and nothing to do with oil pipelines and major industrial projects,” Donnelly told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Bill C-45 is being discussed by various committees in the House. It will be deliberated on by the finance committee starting on November 20, according to Donnelly. With Conservatives enjoying a majority in Parliament, the measure will most likely pass.

      The NDP’s deputy critic for fisheries and oceans stressed that the Conservatives are engaged in a “war on legislation that poses problems to their oil agenda”.

      “Those lakes and waterways enjoy some of the strongest protection in the country, and that has been eviscerated with the Conservatives’ attack with their two omnibus bills,” Donnelly said. “This Navigable Waters Protection Act change is in keeping with that assault on fish.”




      Nov 15, 2012 at 1:35pm

      There isn't anything in Canada, Harper hasn't assaulted, dirtied, corrupted and fouled. That includes the Federal election. There isn't anyone who, doesn't know Harper cheated to win the election. Even Harper knows that. Harper is now lying and cheating his way, out of his election crimes.

      However, all provinces do is bitch. What has that accomplished so far? Provinces stupid enough to stay in, Harper's evil reign of terror in Canada, are only getting what they are asking for. Any provinces with a lick of sense, would get away from Harper and his evil.

      Harper is a Traitor to Canada. Selling our country out to Communist China is a, High Treason crime. Provinces that do not want to be given to Red China? Well then, get the hell away from Harper and Ottawa. This country isn't Canada anymore anyhow.

      What kind of an evil P.M. would destroy our wild Salmon and fish stocks? What kind of an evil P.M. would force the dirty, lethal chemical laced Bitumen into BC? Is it not brain dead, to have behemoth dirty oil tankers, in one of the most treacherous seas in the world?

      That Harper gives a damn about any eco system, is laughable. Dead fish, lands, lakes, rivers, streams and sea?? Harper keeps the dirty Bitumen rolling. He still collects his oil money from Communist China. Will a pipe burst stop Harper from keeping the dirty oil pipeline rolling? Of course not, why would he give a damn? He still gets his money. What happens to BC, he could care less. Harper and his henchman Gordon Campbell signed dirty sneak deals behind our backs. They worked as fast as they could, to dismantle and destroy BC, before Campbell got the boot.

      That provinces shouldn't get out of Harper's evil dictatorship? Convince me.

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      Nov 15, 2012 at 5:47pm

      Joe Oliver said just today (15 Nov) that the Harper government is protecting the environment by "streamlining" laws..............

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      Bruce Conway

      Nov 17, 2012 at 3:41am

      Wondering if you nice people could keep us updated a little bit on the event thats not-really-happening over in Japan.

      Last I heard, there was a rip in the spent fuel pool, they're one quake away from imminent nation-wide destruction, the trout are all radioactive and Tokyo is covered in black powder, but these could all be rumour of course.
      (If it were not for the fact they're from mainstream Japanese sources).

      The oceans will get progressively worse and hit us more over the next couple of years, rainouts will dump more stored fallout onto our West Coast from on high, we'll be avalanched with debris, and eating tuna, salmon, shellfish, seaweed, mushrooms or large-leafed green vegetables, milk and meat is not the best thing to do due to bioaccumulation (and biomagnification). Imported rice and green tea would best be checked with either a geiger counter or a scintillating spectrometer for the now oft-discoverd alpha, beta and gamma particles.

      We know that Harper is dutifully checking all potentially radioactive goods from Japan and elsewhere to keep us all cuddly and safe at night.

      It could be that everything is actually ok and fine in this great country of ours, with the intrepid Harper fearlessly manning the wheel (or even streamlining) amidst the stormy seas of our wanton discontent and incessant whining.

      I heard they operate a kind of S.S. outfit from the PMO and PCO, but this is probably just the usual nonsense, conspiracy theory and such.

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