The Tory’s two-step approach to how industry should deal with fish and fish habitat is a “ghastly” rush job that leaves Ottawa’s door open to push through pending pipeline projects in B.C., local environmentalists say.
Adding insult to injury for environmentalists is a Conservative majority means there is nothing anyone can do to stop the government from pushing Bill C-38 through the House of Commons.
“It scares the hell out of me,” Don Trethewey, president of the Kamloops Fish and Game Club, said Friday.
Trethewey, a retired biologist with the habitat section of the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada, said he’s been following the development of the federal Conservative’s omnibus budget bill with interest and mounting fear.
Environmental and industry lawyers have spent a week working their way through the 425-page bill, finding two different ways in which protection of fish habitat will change.
One provision comes into effect as soon as the bill is passed, which the government intends to do during the next seven days. It maintains some protection of fish habitat but allows Ottawa to more leeway to allow exceptions.
The second phase comes in at a later, unknown date, allowing industrial development as long as fish deemed important for commercial and aboriginal use, or for a sports fishery, aren’t actually killed.
From his years of experience, the best way to protect wildlife is to protect wildlife habitat, said Tretheway. As far as he is concerned, this bill puts all habitats on the industrial chopping block.
The industrial-development component is especially frightening given pending environmental reviews for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, he said. If the bill passes, Ottawa could push the projects through.
“It’s too much of a coincidence for it to be coincidence,” he said. “There’s something fishy there somewhere, if you’ll excuse the pun.”
Jim Cooperman of the Shuswap Environmental Action Society has the same fears. He said the bill paves the way for industrial and commercial development in prime fish habitat.
He said this would be disastrous for the annual Adam’s River salmon run and Shuswap Lake, where the lakeshore is frequented by the fish fry in the spring.
“It’s ghastly,” said Cooperman. “It’s a disaster and there’s so little we can do with the majority government they have.”
Cooperman said the legislation also strips officers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans of their power to protect valuable fish habitat from industrial development.
“It’s all in the name of promoting industrial growth in the tar sands and the pipelines,” he said. “All they (the government) are doing is protecting and improving the wealth of already wealthy people.”
Kamloops Thompson Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod defended the provisions, saying the legislation makes it easier to build a dock on a lake, but harder to construct in important fish habitat.
The current rules give a flooded farmer’s field the same protection as the Adam’s River, she said, adding that’s not balanced at all.
“I think it’s important to look where they’re building through,” said McLeod. “If a company is building through a ditch, the criteria will be a whole lot different than an area with an important habitat.”