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Budget bill sets two-step approach to changing the Fisheries Act

In Environment
May 9th, 2012

By Brent Patterson Council of Canadians May 6 2012
The Canadian Press reports, “The federal government’s new budget bill sets out a controversial two-step approach to how industry should deal with fish and their habitat — with the second step much more far-reaching than the first. It has taken environmental and industry lawyers a week to work their way through the complex fisheries provisions in the new omnibus budget bill. …The fisheries changes are woven throughout the budget implementation bill, and are so scattered that lawyers and experts are still scratching their heads even after a briefing from departmental officials. …They say the most puzzling thing is the inclusion of two different ways in which protection of fish habitat will change.”
 Two provisions
 “One provision will come into effect as soon as the bill is passed. It maintains some protection of fish habitat, but it gives Ottawa more leeway to allow exceptions. The second phase will come later — exactly when is unknown — and will allow industrial development as long as fish deemed important for commercial or aboriginal use or for a sports fishery aren’t actually killed. …Why the rarely used, two-step approach? Because the government wanted to implement change soon, but needed extra time to develop a full-fledged set of regulations, officials say.”
 The Mining Association of Canada
 “The Mining Association of Canada would not comment on the bill until its lawyers thoroughly understand it. Now, if companies want to mine or drill or run a pipeline, they must ensure they don’t disrupt fish habitat and if they do, they must provide a new habitat for the fish. Under the new provisions, habitat is not the main concern. They look at the fish themselves. According to the wording in the budget bill, the government will only stop development if ’serious harm’ to fish is at stake, and only if those fish are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery. ‘Serious harm’ is defined as death, or permanent damage to habitat.”
 Green Party of Canada
 “‘(The second provision) is the real new replacement,’ said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who has spent hours dissecting the measures. For wildlife and the country’s ecosystems, ‘it’s devastating and sweeping,’ she said. After hashing through the details with Fisheries officials, May believes the legislation will eventually eliminate protection of fish habitat, hand more oversight to provincial regulators and remove all federal impediments to natural resource extraction.”
 West Coast Environmental Law
 “(West Coast Environmental Law staff lawyer Andrew) Gage points out, it does not include maiming, stunting or distorting the growth of fish. Proving a company has directly caused the death of important fish is very difficult, he added.”
 The Assembly of First Nations
 “The Assembly of First Nations, instead of responding directly to the changes in the Fisheries Act, published a list of 16 questions of its own about how the legislation will work. The organization says it needs to know timelines, definitions of terms used in the legislation, plans for consultation and basic information about protection of aboriginal fishing rights.” The AFN questions can be read at http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/news-media/latest-news/afn-questions-to-the-department-of-fisheries-and-oceans-dfo-on-fish.
 The Council of Canadians
 Council of Canadians water campaigner Meera Karunananthan has written, “The potential impacts of weakening the Fisheries Act will extend beyond the fish populations of the country. The government is severely undermining federal environmental safeguards which have maintained a safe and healthy environment, not only for fish but for all species and communities dependent on clean freshwater for their well-being. …The Metal Mining Effluent Regulation of the Fisheries Act called Schedule 2 has been used by the Harper government since 2006 to enable metal mining companies to request exemption from the Act’s prohibitions against dumping deleterious substances into fish-bearing water or harming fish habitat. The Metal Mining Effluent Regulation will now be extended to coal and diamond mines making them eligible to apply for Schedule 2 exemptions.”
 She adds, “Budget 2012 is aimed at facilitating and incentivizing massive expansion in the mineral sector. The federal government estimates $500 billion in investments to the water-intensive and water polluting mining and energy sector over the next decade. …The Council of Canadians has joined allies to demand that environmental legislation be restored and strengthened, not undermined. In the face of weakening federal safeguards, we will continue to support community and Indigenous resistance to environmentally harmful mining projects and fight for a national water policy that protects freshwater resources and recognizes water and sanitation as a human right.” To read Meera’s blog please go to http://canadians.org/blog/?p=14384.
 C-38, the budget implementation bill, is expected to pass by June 8, or by June 22 at the latest.

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