I previously reviewed a retired DFO biologist’s claim unwarranted changes to the Fisheries Act opens the door to pollution.
“The weakened habitat protection [sections 35, 36] will come to haunt us in the next decade,” said Otto Langer.
The old act was working, says Langer, but enforcement was discouraged at the government level.
Langer condemns the absence of public debate before “neutering” habitat protection, and says senior DFO managers expressed “shock” to learn about changes after the fact.
Industry lobbying drove the act’s rewording, says Langer.
“I have a different take,” says MP, Randy Kamp, secretary to Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield.
Here it is.
Emberly: Langer says a senior habitat DFO staff was shocked because a senior executive in Vancouver “said any changes by Harper in the act would not affect the habitat or pollution provisions of that act.
Langer asks: “How can DFO consultation be trusted when they are meant to be misleading and willing to lie to their own staff?”
Kamp: I’d be surprised if any DFO officer would make that statement because it’s not in their control. It’s a political decision. In any event, protection will continue. The change is about serious harm to fish, the death of fish. Permanent alteration of habitat is the new definition of serious harm.
Emberly: “Serious harm to fish” and “permanent damage” replace “hazardous alteration or destruction of habitat.” Public consultations is expected to define these terms. Langer’s says definitions should be first.
Kamp: Our purpose is to seek feedback on terms like permanent damage. The department will hold meetings in the fall and we will be holding parallel meetings with stakeholders.
There was no clear idea of what “harmful” alteration of habitat was in the old wording at first, either. The old habitat policy (1986) wasn’t clear about what habitat was either, and what fish are. It doesn’t apply to all fish everywhere. Over the years it’s been more inclusive than it was intended to be. But, there are bodies of water and species of fish it would not apply to. It’s about fish that are fished, and fish that support those fish and have to be protected, as well. Of course, there will be a debate about whether you can separate the ecosystem that way, but that was our intent: to focus on fish that were fished by Canadians.
Emberly: Former DFO deputy minister John Davis (Cohen Inquiry, 2011) called for public discussion before important resource decisions were made.
He alluded to the decision not to remediate habitat for the endangered Cultus Lake sockeye.
Kamp: All politicians hear from the public and DFO managers. It’s not true there wasn’t input – especially at the upper levels of the department. But, nobody says there was widespread consultation over habitat. That’s generally not how that works. Some restructuring [of habitat] has occurred with Cultus Lake sockeye.
Emberly: Langer says revisions ignored the progress DFO was making for compliance with Section 35.
Kamp: I can understand why he’d feel that way. But, it was the conclusion of the minister that change required a new legislative process that would be more effective. It’s possible that the new regulations could even be more prohibitive than those in the old version of the act which might not have covered every prohibition.
Emberly: Langer notes a DFO staff cut of a third and doubts that protection can work.
Kamp: Many DFO habitat people were doing things outside their area of expertise. There will be fewer low-risk projects to review. That will be done by the National Energy Board, or the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. So it will work with fewer DFO in the field.
Emberly: Mr. Harper says science will decide if the Enbridge pipeline goes ahead. Can you do this when key individuals like Dr. Kenneth Lee, an expert in the corrosive affects of bitumen on pipelines, aren’t allowed to do research to guide the Gateway pipeline environmental review panel?
Shouldn’t Lee’s input be enabled for – in his words – “due diligence.”
Kamp: Science is important, but there are limits on what can and should be done. I’m competent that the NEB will get the input they need. Who’s he with?
Note: Lee is head of DFO’s Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas, and Energy Research.
Kamp: I’d have to look at the details of that one, but I doubt that he’s been excluded from the process.
Emberly: You say changes were made to the act so farmers and municipalities can clean ditches, yet Pitt Meadows and Geoff Clayton of ARMS say that’s not a problem. Some have suggested the farmer explanation is disingenuous (aiming to mislead). Langer says changes are a response to high pressure lobbying from industry including Enbridge.
Kamp: Well, I can tell you I had a meeting with municipal officials in Chilliwack who are very concerned about it. I’m not aware of any lobbying to the minister or the prime minister. No one has lobbied me personally.
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.