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Kent County chapter calls on government to rescind DFO agreement with National Energy Board

Dominic LeBlanc is the federal minister of fisheries and oceans.

The Council of Canadians Kent County chapter is asking the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to rescind a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that transfers responsibility for assessing risk to fish and fish habitat by proposed pipelines and power lines to the National Energy Board.

On January 5, chapter activist Ann Pohl asked the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, “Could the Minister confirm what is the status of this MOU, and whether this is something that will be repealed in upcoming legislative changes to better protect Canada’s waters and natural environment?”

In December 2013, the federal government announced that the National Energy Board and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding fish and fish habitat. The notice explains, “Through this MOU, the NEB will now be responsible for assessing potential impacts to fisheries from proposed NEB regulated pipeline and power line applications. …The NEB shall also become responsible to determine if proposed projects will impact aquatic species at risk and require permitting under the Species at Risk Act.”

Significantly, “If the NEB determines then an authorization or permit will be required, DFO shall be notified and will be responsible for issuing the authorization or permit.”

The National Energy Board has already recommended the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline even while acknowledging it would have a significant adverse impacts on southern resident killer whales, which are designated under the Species at Risk Act. The CBC has reported, “In approving the pipeline expansion, the National Energy Board said it weighed the benefits of the project against its burdens.”

The National Energy Board will also be making a recommendation on the proposed Energy East pipeline. If that pipeline is approved, it could result in more than 280 oil supertankers in the Bay of Fundy each year. Council of Canadians campaigner Mark D’Arcy has written, “The North Atlantic Right Whale is a symbol of the biodiversity and fragility of the Bay of Fundy. It is the most endangered whale in the world. TransCanada is the wrong company to have near the right whale. Leave the right whale and the Bay of Fundy alone.”

D’Arcy has also highlighted, “The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, the largest fishers’ association in Nova Scotia, have never been consulted by TransCanada on this proposed project or associated tanker traffic through the Bay of Fundy.”

A spokesperson for the fishermen’s association has commented, “The fastest tides in the world mean the fastest spreading oil in the world, with no means to mitigate it our stop it in a quick fashion.”

There is the opportunity to change this.

The government notice indicates, “The Parties will meet together at least once each fiscal year that this MOU is in force to review its content and assess the effectiveness of activities under this MOU. This meeting will include discussion of improvements to the procedures for referring and assessing applications that have the potential to harm fish or modify fish habitat. Proposals for changes to this MOU can be made at any time, and appropriate amendments made as may be agreed upon.”

In the October 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau stated, “Stephen Harper’s changes to the Fisheries Act, and his elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, have weakened environmental protections. We will review these changes, restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards.”

It’s time for the prime minister to act on this promise.