Big changes and lots of cuts are coming in the Conservative government’s budget implementation bill. Among the cuts the Harper Conservatives are making to oversight in many government departments are cuts to the Federal Fisheries Act which many, including former Tory ministers, actively oppose.
It will be difficult for the Prime Minister to cast these remarks aside as coming from leftist radicals, as he usually does with dissenting voices, though the Environment Minister has tried.
Focus on industry, not enironment
The main problem with the changes is the focus on the fishery as industry rather than fish as part of an ecosystem. As with many other changes contained in the government’s budget bill, the changes to the Fisheries Act will give final discretion on any decision to the minister, who is decidedly not a scientist (Keith Ashfield studied business before becoming a politician, though he does happen to be from the Maritimes and his official biography makes sure to mention that he has fished). The bill also includes changes to the Species at Risk Act limiting the waterways protected by the act.
The changes to the Fisheries Act move the focus from fish habitats (and any activity that harms a habitat) to the fish themselves and their value to the market; as it’s phrased in the bill no person shall conduct activity that could cause “serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fisheries, or to fish that support such a fishery.Ē
No mention of how these fish fit into the ecosystem as a whole and how damage to fish or habitats of fish that are not “part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal” fishery would be viewed.
Canada has seen issues with sustainability of the fishery in the past, which has led to economic disparity in the Atlantic region compared to the rest of the country. The budget bill also includes changes to Employment Insurance that may negatively impact seasonal workers; these changes have led people to accuse Harper of being biased against the East Coast.
The government has also eliminated the positions of 27 biologists working with the Freshwater Institute’s Experimental Lakes program, which was studying the effects of pollutants on freshwater ecosystems. These biologists have spent years testing the effects of various pollutants on small lakes and pushing for change across the continent based on their results.
Photo Credit: Virginia Sea Grant