Four Former Federal Fisheries Ministers Line Up Against Harper’s Plan to Gut Fisheries Act


Read this story from Mark Hume in the Globe and Mail on the opposition from former Liberal and Conservative fisheries ministers to Stephen Harper’s plan gut habitat protections from the Fisheries Act in his omnibus budget bill. (May 30, 2012)

In a rare show of solidarity across party lines, four former federal fisheries ministers – two Conservatives and two Liberals – are speaking out against proposed legislative changes they say will lead to irreparable damage to fish habitat.

“They are totally watering down and emasculating the Fisheries Act,” said Tom Siddon, who was fisheries minister for Conservative former prime minister Brian Mulroney from 1985 to 1990. “They are really taking the guts out of the Fisheries Act and it’s in devious little ways if you read all the fine print … they are making a Swiss cheese out of [it].”

Mr. Siddon, now retired in British Columbia, will appear before a parliamentary subcommittee on Wednesday to voice the concerns he, John Fraser, Herb Dhaliwal and David Anderson have about Bill C-38. The omnibus legislation was brought in by the Finance Minister to deal with amendments to 60 different acts, and it includes changes to key provisions of the Fisheries Act, a powerful piece of legislation that dates back to Confederation.

Under the amendments, the Fisheries Act will shift its focus to protect only fish that support commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries. At the same time, some federal responsibilities will be offloaded to the provinces.

Mr. Siddon said the bill was strengthened in 1986 to broadly protect fish habitat and he is dismayed the government now wants to weaken it.

“The real scary part of this is that the one minister in Canada who has the constitutional duty to protect the fishery, which includes habitat, is the Fisheries Minister and these amendments essentially parcel out and water down his fiduciary responsibility, to the point that … he can delegate his responsibility to private-sector interests and individuals,” he said.

“I know from many experiences, whether it’s the issues of the gravel pit operators … placer miners …or pulp mills, that what they could get away with, they got away with, prior to 1985-86.”

Mr. Siddon said the proposed changes would never have been tolerated in Mr. Mulroney’s era.

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About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.