Commercial and sport fishing communities across Canada could be squeezed out by First Nations fisheries if the federal government’s omnibus budget bill passes, the leader of the B.C. Conservatives said Wednesday.
John Cummins also expressed concerns about a shift in power that would allow the federal environment minister to have a free hand in using fish to fund Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
He put down his concerns in a letter that he mailed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday, saying someone in B.C. needs to stand up to the bill.
“These are issues that I think are very important to British Columbia and resonate elsewhere in Canada,” he told The Daily News.
“They are issues the Harper government has tried to push through recently and during my term in Parliament. They were wrong then and they are still wrong.”
As an MP, Cummins served twice as party critic for Fisheries and Oceans. He left federal politics in 2011 to pursue leadership of the B.C. Conservatives.
In the letter, Cummins says the budget Bill C-38 adds a new component to the description of First Nations fisheries, which have traditionally been defined as “fishing for food, social and ceremonial purposes” to include the word “subsistence,” which means the sale of enough fish to provide for a moderate livelihood.
If this were to happen, Cummins is convinced this will put recreational and commercial fisheries at risk. He said almost all Canadians would be excluded from the fishery.
He also goes after Bill C-38 for allowing the fisheries department to use the sale of fish by licence holders to fund the government’s own scientific and management requirements.
Cummins said the fish belong to the people of Canada, but the legislation will, in essence, take that away.
“With Bill C-38, the government will take ownership of the fish,” he said. “They want to finance the fishery and look after their friends with the proceeds.”
By sending the letter, Cummins hopes to shake the B.C. Liberals out of their complacency and spur them action. He said Premier Christy Clark is willing to sell out B.C. to gain favour with the federal Tories.
“This is not in the best interest of British Columbians,” he said.
Without seeing Cummins’s letter or speaking to him, Tory MP Cathy McLeod couldn’t comment on the specific of what he covered.
But she reiterated what she’s said on Bill C-38 before, assuring voters it is designed to move the country and economy toward long-term prosperity while strengthening Canada’s environmental laws where they count.
Provincial Environment Minister Terry Lake could not be reached for comment.