Changes to environmental and fisheries legislation a concern

Changes to environmental and fisheries legislation a concern: Fisheries Act in Bill C-38

Many residents of Lake Cowichan have emailed or called my office with their concerns about the omnibus budget bill, C-38.

For many people, it is the changes to environmental and fisheries legislation that is the biggest concern.

For environmental legislation, the Conservative decision to allow only a provincial environmental assessment in some cases where normally a federal assessment would also occur has many people wondering how the cumulative impacts of a project will be considered.

Currently, only the federal legislation obligates the federal government to consider cumulative impacts. Without a federal assessment, there is no trigger to consider what multiple projects may do to the environment.

While most of the environmental assessments done in our area are provincial, there have been proposals in the past for gas pipelines or other energy projects that would have involved the federal government.

We are certain to see more of those projects in the future, and the changes under Bill C-38 may limit how much time is spent on those projects and who may appear to present their concerns.

And Bill C-38 takes away the final decision making power on any potential pipeline project from the National Energy Board and gives it to the cabinet – politicizing a decision that Canadians previously decided should not be up to politicians.

The effects of the legislation are wide-ranging.

Under the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act in Bill C-38, much of the protection for fish habitat will be gone.

At the most fundamental level, where any activity that may harm any fish was outlawed in the past, the new legislation will only apply to fish species that are part of a “commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery.”

This ignores the whole concept of an ecosystem and the recognition of many people here that fish species humans consider inedible or unimportant are often the main food for the fish we do want to protect.

The Bill will also allow the fisheries minister to download responsibility for protecting fish to the province. This includes the power to authorize destruction of fish habitat. Since provincial governments do not have the legislative responsibility to protect fish species or habitat, this abrogation of responsibility by the federal government is unprecedented.

On top of the changes to legislation, Bill C-38 also authorizes cuts to departments. For the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, this will mean less money for monitoring of fish stocks. We may not know exactly what impact major resource projects have had on our fisheries until it is too late.