Fish Act task force wants more information
A task force formed to help the government put in place the new Fisheries Act wants to help, but says it needs information before it can offer consultation.
"In order to consult on something, you can't say, 'This is where we're going. It's done, we're going here,'" says Coun. Cheryl Ashlie. "It's not consultation unless you let everybody see the cards,"
Maple Ridge district formed the group composed of staff, two councillors, and the Alouette River Management Society and Kanaka Education and Environmental Partnership Society, to give feedback as Fisheries and Oceans Canada develops new rules and policies for the Act.
The passing of Bill C-38 this spring meant the axing of the section prohibiting 'harmful alteration, disruption destruction" of fish habitat. Instead, the new act says no one can cause "serious harm" to recreational, commercial or aboriginal fisheries.
Ashlie, who's on the task force, says MP and fisheries secretary Randy Kamp seems confident the changes will work. But the group doesn't share the same opinion.
"We are not getting that sense of that. Where are you getting that confidence from, when you are not sharing the documents?"
The group first wanted some background on the changes to the Fisheries Act, and forwarded some questions in advance of a recent meeting they had with the MP.
"Most of them he never responded to," said task force chair John Kelly.
Kelly, though, added that Kamp said he'd try to get more information at another meeting that was supposed to take place this week.
Kamp said he only got the questions the night before and said he left about 10 questions of his own for the group to answer, asking them what they think of the definitions of commercial, aboriginal or recreational fisheries. Does the definition of serious harm need clarification? he asked.
He expects to hear back from the task force.
"I certainly welcomed their input on these issues."
Once the government has ironed out its new policies and regulations, then cabinet will make the actual changes to the text of the act.
Kamp said the government's main purpose for the changes was to refocus protection on fisheries after the act became too broad, requiring government monitoring of even low-risk projects.
For Kelly, though: "We are still trying to get the feds to tell us, what are they trying to fix?"
The ad hoc group is supposed to eventually provide a report to Maple Ridge council.
"I'm not very optimistic that this government is open to engaging and consulting on this stuff. I think they've got their minds made up," Kelly said.
Ashlie said the group made it clear to Kamp that the initial process wasn't viewed as consultation.
"What are they basing the changes on? What was the failing in the system? What research are they basing it on? Who are the scientists they are talking about? Why this timeline? Why not longer? How are you going to engage the public?
"Our main goal is to slow it down and be much more inclusive towards the public," she added.
Ashlie indicated the absence of justification for the changes is stalling the process at the start.
"We can't find anything that is citing what is failing with the [prohibition of] harmful alteration, disruption, destruction of fish habitat.
"What is that so wrong that is not working and what is it founded on?"
Under the new act, authorization for disruption of fish habitat is only needed for waters connected to recreational, commercial or aboriginal fisheries, says a question and answer list on the ministry's website.
"Authorizations will not be required for projects occurring in waters that do not support the recreational, commercial or Aboriginal fisheries. New tools will be available to manage smaller impacts to recreational, commercial and Aboriginal fisheries," says the website.
Ashlie said she wants to cooperate and wants to participate when it's "honest consultation," but is torn with the whole process.
People at the grassroots may come up with the same conclusions as the government, but to do so they need the same information, she adds.
"As a politician, I know the way I can ask people to trust me is to show them what I'm working from. For us to trust them ... show us what are you working from.
"There's nothing for us to see and read and know.
It's not enough to say 'we're confident,' she added. "Show us. Show us the stuff.
"It's too important for them to say 'just trust us.'"