Before heading up to Mount Robson to embark on a three-and-a half week paddle of the Fraser River, NDP MP Fin Donnelly stopped in Williams Lake to meet with constituents Wednesday and talk about fisheries.
Donnelly is participating in the Rivershed Society of B.C.’s Sustainable Living Leadership Program trip on the Fraser River, along with Horsefly resident Marin Patenaude. As deputy fisheries and oceans critic, Donnelly said fisheries is an important issue right across the country.
“We’ve got pipeline proposals and other big project proposals that will put fish at risk.”
He hears regularly from the commercial and recreational fishing industry and said there are a lot of values Canadians want to see protected.
“Obviously they want to see jobs and they want to see a strong economy, but the question is at what cost?”
Fish is a value that is very important to all Canadians and changes to the Fisheries Act have created uncertainty, he said.
“It’s created a lot of unknowns for large projects and small projects. While the law has changed, the regulations haven’t been enacted yet, so they are still consulting on trying to get the new regulations in place.”
He said his understanding is the proposed New Prosperity Mine would be guided by the old act. Referencing the Cohen Commission Report on fisheries released in 2012 , Donnelly said there has been “absolutely” nothing but silence from the federal government so far.
“One of the recommendations Cohen put out is that we need to have a strong mandate for science to understand what’s going on. If you talk to others, they’ll say we know what the issues are and we need to address them.”
The problem, he said, is the federal government is gutting legislation that protects fish.
By forcing Fisheries and Oceans Canada to lay off the number of staff it has, it has “handcuffed” the department from doing its job.
“It will be an impossible task to protect fish,” he said. “On top of that, the federal government is hell-bent on getting oil from Alberta into the market abroad and that’s a recipe for disaster for fish and our environment in general.”
There are some Conservatives who are very concerned about the fishery, he added.
“The question is whether they will have the guts to speak out against the iron grip the PMO has on them.”
Many changes, including the fisheries act, have been packed into the Omnibus Bill, that were devastating.
“Some of the backbenchers and Conservative members I talked to were not happy about that and they did speak out initially and were quickly reigned in.”
The fact that Bill C-38 changed 69 laws was outrageous, Donnelly said.
“There has never been a bill of that size that has affected so many pieces of legislation in one fell swoop.”
The Fisheries Act is one of Canada’s strongest pieces of legislation and successive parliaments have tried to change it, but each time they’ve tried they haven’t been able to because of required consultation.
“This time, instead of going in and changing the act through public consultation, they said they weren’t going to do that, but were going to change one section of the act mainly habitat protection, and that was extremely problematic.”
It was a strategically smart move because it avoided public scrutiny, it avoided the media, because “hugely significant” changes were bundled in a budget bill.
“The national press focuses on the budget and along with that is a suite of changes to a significant act like the Fisheries Act.”
It was one of the most undemocratic moves in Canadian history, he added.
“This is from a prime minister who when he was in opposition said omnibus bills are undemocratic by nature because not only can the public not comment on it, but the parliamentary process can’t happen because committees like the fisheries and oceans standing committee don’t have an opportunity to comment.”
It went to a subcommittee of finance, Donnelly said.
Donnelly is also the western economic diversification critic and said the NDP under Thomas Mulcair want to see value-added jobs and the environment protected.