Weighing the scales: balancing the dual mandate of Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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      By Jessica Outhwaite, Jennifer Comrie, and Alan Moore

      Last month, Jim Flaherty announced the 2013 federal budget. On the whole, media and the Canadian public responded similarly to Flaherty’s attempt to balance the budget: with indifference. This is notable, especially in stark contrast to the indignant uproar sparked by last year’s budget.

      In 2012, the Canadian public witnessed the House pass two federal omnibus bills. An omnibus bill is often a 400-plus page bill that makes sweeping changes to Canadian legislation. The omnibus bills, C-38 and C-45, were introduced as part of the budget implementation plan.

      Various assaults on environmental legislation and indigenous rights litter the content of Bill C-38 and C-45. Across Canada, these amendments were key catalysts in the renewal of the environmental and indigenous rights movements.

      However, it is Bill C-38, and the changes to the Fisheries Act that must be addressed before Canada’s most valuable and irreplaceable natural resource is destroyed: our water.

      The Fisheries Act is one of three pieces of legislation that governs the practices and policies of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). The Fisheries Act was one of Canada’s strongest pieces of legislation. Bill C-38 gutted it. Fisheries experts and environmentalists expressed two serious concerns over the amendments made to the Fisheries Act. First, the amendments have serious and negative impacts on the health of aquatic ecosystems. Second, protection of these systems will be relegated to a much lower priority. Through these amendments, the federal government chose economic prosperity over healthy aquatic ecosystems.

      Amendments to the Fisheries Act found in Bill C-38 not only remove the teeth from federal fisheries protection and management strategies, they are also symptomatic of a larger problem: the dual mandate of DFO.

      DFO’s mandate is “to advance sustainable aquatic ecosystems and support safe and secure Canadian waters while fostering economic prosperity across maritime sectors and fisheries”. It’s a mouthful, and the duality of the mandate is explicit: environmental conservation hand-in-hand with economic progress.

      Prior to 2012, the phrase “economic prosperity” was not included within DFO’s official mandate; instead, the sole focus was the protection of “sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and healthy and productive aquatic ecosystems.”

      The federal government has handed DFO a dual—and many argue mutually exclusive—mandate. Further, government has systematically forced DFO to prioritize one side of the mandate’s scale, economics, over the other, the environment. Changes to the Fisheries Act via Bill C-38 are one more, legislatively enshrined tactic to tip DFO’s dual mandate in favour of economic growth, at the cost of Canada’s oceans and rivers.

      One tangible example illustrates how DFO’s dual mandate is weighted in favour of economics.

      In British Columbia, hundreds of Atlantic salmon fish farms dot the coast. Despite evidence that salmon aquaculture—as typically practised in B.C.—degrades aquatic ecosystems and limits access to aboriginal food, social, and ceremonial fisheries, DFO pursues aquaculture implementation for one incentive: economics.

      Is it is possible for DFO to accommodate economics and the environment with equal integrity in their practice and policy? Is it possible for DFO to judiciously discharge the dual mandate in a contentious era of sweeping legislative change? The actions of DFO suggest not. And yet, it is an ecological and financial necessity that DFO balance their mandate.

      Simply understood, the mandate’s duality is not ideal. However, it is the charge DFO must work within, for now. Our suggestion: begin to enact policies and practices on-the-ground that reflect its duality, economics and the environment.

      Jessica Outhwaite is a spring graduate from the University of Victoria with a BA in environmental studies and Canadian history.

      Jennifer Comrie is a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Victoria pursuing a BA in environmental studies and Canadian history.

      Alan Moore is a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Victoria pursuing a BA in environmental studies and political science. 

      Comments

      4 Comments

      DJC

      Apr 5, 2013 at 3:16pm

      It took three of them to write that?
      Good grief, looks like more barista's with BA's are being cranked out under the guise of "Environmental Studies"

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      Clairebear

      Apr 5, 2013 at 6:34pm

      And what do you have to say for yourself harassing university students on a Friday night

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      Moustique1604

      Apr 5, 2013 at 8:36pm

      As mush as I agree with most of your arguments, your premise is flawed. Budget 2012 did not cause much 'uproar'. It is the Budget 2012 Implementation BIlls, aka Bill C-38 and then C-45, that caused uproar, The Budget itself did not announce the changes that were then observed within the omnibus bills.

      The implementation bill for budget 2013 it yet to come, most likely end of April; and enactment like last year around June. Who knows if this one will be an omnibus again. This year's budget wasn't very clear on its intent to affect environmental changes to legislation and policies either.

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      true north strong and free

      Apr 8, 2013 at 3:47am

      If only Herr Harper et al...loved Earth like they love their man made riches and devil's excretement aka oil...everything would be different. I can't tell you how much it hurts Earth for your love of oil and reverence for man made riches. It's affecting all elements and life on Earth.

      Everything the Harper government accomplished or destroyed (depending on your pov) with the omnibus bill ultimately supports the oil tycoons and their pipelines and China...

      How long will it take Canada and Canadians to restore what has been gutted? Who will be the man and the team to lead us to a prosperity that supports a sustainable environment?

      Without our environment and all elements of life on Earth (fresh water, clean air, pure earth), man cannot live, and therefore, suicide is certainty. It's time for a change. Hey man...it's your turn to change.

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