Changes to the Fisheries Act have drawn protesters from Metro Vancouver to the doors of the secretary to the fisheries minister in Maple Ridge.
Forest Ethics Advocacy covered the outside of MP Randy Kamp’s office Friday with paper fish and messages for him and his government to reconsider changes that would eliminate broad protection of fish habitat.
The government instead said it just wants to protect commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries.
“If you aren’t protecting the fish that are on different parts of the food chain, it’s going to affect the commercial fishery. It’s a really short-sighted approach,” said Jolan Bailey, with Forest Ethics.
The changes are designed to make it easier to get approval for the Northern Gateway pipeline, he added.
The major change to the Fisheries Act is part of Bill C-38, the huge omnibus bill that includes the federal budget.
Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield’s office in Fredericton, N.B. also had his office covered in fish.
Bailey said the changes to the act are bothering a lot of people.
He disagreed with the lack of debate over the changes and having them lumped into a big budget bill.
“It’s really over-riding the democratic principals that underline Canadian democratic society,” he added.
The protest, though, came too late.
Kamp said Bill C-38 will get third reading by this week, after the 800 opposition amendments are voted on and defeated by the Conservative government.
By late next week, it should be in the Senate, soon to become law.
“We think it’s time to move this forward and begin the process and send them off to third reading,” Kamp said Tuesday.
The changes to the Fisheries Act he added, were debated for 20 hours in a special sub-committee and that the government tabled the legislation April 26.
He said policies in the act introduced in 1986 and 1998 speak to focusing on fisheries and their habitats, rather than fish, so the legislation is just enshrining that.
“When you focus on these fisheries … as it still will say in the act, that in order to address the significant threats to fisheries, you need to protect their habitat, and that’s what we’ll be doing.”
Kamp said the Fisheries Act has grown and broadened over the years beyond just fisheries.
“This allows us to focus our protection where we think it should be.”
He said that municipalities were on the sub-committee and that they want clarity on when the act applies and when it doesn’t. Currently, under the Fisheries Act, any change to a stream that contains fish requires authorization from the ministry.
Under the new law, only streams connected with aboriginal, commercial or sports fisheries will require approval for any changes.
“They’ll [cities] know that certain undertakings, certain projects, certain water that won’t be subject to the prohibition … if they’re minor with no risk attached to it.
“Right now, if there’s a body of water, and there might be a fish, even if it’s not a fish that anyone ever fishes, the act requires us to go through the authorization process with the municipality.
“We think this will be good for municipalities to know more clearly what their obligations are,” Kamp said.
The changes to the laws all fit in with the Jobs, Growth and Prosperity focus of the budget bill. He said the new changes won’t make it easier to build pipelines because those lines will be crossing streams connected to aboriginal, sport or commercial fisheries.
Changes to the section dealing with harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fisheries habitat will be decided later and approved by cabinet once more definitions are in place.
“Not everything comes into force at royal assent but just about everything.”