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.