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NEWS: Harper to gut the Fisheries Act to further promote mining, energy projects

Postmedia News reports, “Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield indicated Wednesday that changes are coming to the federal Fisheries Act. NDP and Liberal MPs blasted the plan, accusing the Conservatives of trying to ‘gut’ what Green party leader Elizabeth May calls the “cornerstone” of federal environment policy.”

“The current law bans activity that results in the ‘harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat’. The proposed new wording would remove all references to habitat, according to the information leaked to retired federal fisheries biologist Otto Langer. The law would then (only) prohibit activity that would cause an ‘adverse effect’ on ‘fish of economic, cultural or ecological value’, according to the proposed new wording sent to Langer.”

“Ashfield said the government is ‘looking at’ the wording of the legislation’s habitat provisions. …Ashfield, according to internal documents obtained by Postmedia News through the Access to Information Act, was advised last year that the habitat section is a significant ‘irritant’ for industry groups in Canada. There has been an aggressive lobbying campaign in Ottawa over the habitat provisions, with major corporations and industry groups facing off against environmentalist lobbyists.”

The Globe and Mail adds, “Among the most sensitive natural environments in the country are fish habitats, which since 1975 have been protected by a section of the Canada Fisheries Act. But Langer says Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his ministers are planning to change that. Mr. Langer has obtained documents – he would not say from whom – that show the government intends to remove the requirement in the Canada Fisheries Act to protect fish habitats and any fish that is not of ‘economic, cultural or ecological value’.”

“Michelle Rempel, the Calgary MP who is parliamentary secretary to the Environment Minister, says…in its present form, the environmental review process can cause delays and lead to lost economic opportunities. Ms. Rempel said (that’s) ‘a particularly important fact given that major energy and mining projects represent as much as $500-billion in potential investment over the next decade.'”

Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline
Postmedia notes, “MPs said it’s part of a broader plan by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to pave the way for Enbridge Inc.’s pro-posed Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline to the B.C. coast, since that pipeline would cross hundreds of rivers and streams.”

Schedule 2
But the Schedule 2 story has not made it to the media yet.

On June 4, 2010, the Sandy Pond Alliance for the Protection of Canadian Waters (of which the Council of Canadians is a member group) launched a Federal Court challenge against the Schedule 2 metal mining effluent regulations created through an amendment to the Fisheries Act.

We argue that the metal mining effluent regulations – which allow mining companies to dump their toxic waste into freshwater lakes reclassified as ‘tailings impoundment areas – are contrary to the intent of the Fisheries Act because they permit the destruction of freshwater fish habitat and unique biodiversity. Or in other words, because the Fisheries Act says it is against the law to harm fish-bearing waters, the Schedule 2 amendment should not be allowed to violate the act itself.

It would appear that the Harper government is now seeking to take the gutting of the Fisheries Act even further.

In terms of our Federal Court case, we expect to learn our court date by mid-April and that the hearing itself will likely take place in June or September.