Canada's war on the environment
By Krystyn Tully, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper Weekly
Ottawa is going to war on the environment. On Tuesday,leaked documents revealed that the Harper Government is planning to rewrite the cornerstone of Canadian environmental law: the Fisheries Act.
The law is nearly 140 years old. It governs the Canadian commercial and sport fisheries, prohibits pollution, and protects fish habitat. The Harper Government amendments will remove protection for habitat and focus solely on fish with "economic, cultural, or ecological value." It's a preposterous proposal born of lack of regard for nature and/or total ignorance - (what, exactly, is a fish without ecological value?).
Earlier that same day, the House of Commons Environment Committee tabled a report recommending that federal environmental assessments be abandoned wherever possible. Opposition parties slammed the report, calling the committee review process 'rigged'. Green Party leader Elizabeth May said bluntly: "This is a disaster for environmental review in this country."
Meanwhile, a Senate committee held hearings this week to review so-called "un-Canadian" activities by environmental organizations. Conservative officials are concerned that U.S. interests are funnelling money to Canadian groups who oppose projects such as the Northern Gateway pipeline. The Senators' distaste for environmentalists is palpable: "They are all anti-Canadian," said Senator Mike Duffy.
Senator Don Plett took his criticisms one step further, speculating that environmentalists might support terrorism and receiving funding from creatures on other planets (no, seriously):
"Let me ask you this, honourable senators: If environmentalists are willing to accept money from Martians, where would they draw the line on where they receive money from? Would they take money from Al Qaeda, the Hamas or the Taliban?," Senator Don Plett, the [Conservative] party's former president, asked in the Senate.
Sadly, it is not professional environmentalists who will suffer most from the barrage against clean air and clean water. It is Canadians and the communities in which we live.
The hunters, fishers, and new Canadians who depend on fish for food and for community will feel the impacts first. We are surprised that the government is showing such disregard for a group of people it once courted. When the Conservative party won its majority last year, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters hailed it as "good news for outdoor enthusiasts". Whilst campaigning, the Prime Minister failed to mention that he would use a majority mandate to dismantle the very law that protects the habitat hunters love so dearly.
"You cannot duck hunt if there are no ducks. You cannot fish if there are no fish. When you destroy habitat, you make it impossible for wildlife to survive. Government once understood how nature works, and that's why they invented the Fisheries Act and environmental assessments," says Waterkeeper Mark Mattson.
The government may think that streamlining environmental rules will help industry, in turn helping the economy, and in turn helping workers. The government is wrong.
Attacking environmental protections makes it harder for people to survive in very tough economic times. New money flowing into Alberta's oil projects won't help feed a family in rural Ontario. A healthy wild fish population will.
Put simply, this week's attacks on clean water are a mistake. A big, big mistake.
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