By Fin Donnelly, MP Port Moody—Coquitlam, NDP Critic for Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard –
In 2015, Justin Trudeau was elected on a promise of “Real Change.” His environmental platform was welcomed by many wild salmon advocates who thought we could move beyond ten long years of Harper’s disastrous environmental policies. Two years later, when we examine Trudeau’s record, we see how his promises were nothing but hype and cynicism. We are still living under Harper’s environmental policies, his climate change targets, and his review process that approves major industrial projects jeopardizing our wild salmon. As NDP critic for Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, I have witnessed firsthand the government abandonment of meaningful reform in favour of rebranding Harper-era policies as pragmatic if not “progressive”.
Harper’s Fisheries Act
The Fisheries Act was one of the strongest legal protections for wild salmon in the country. However, the Harper government gutted the Act in 2012, significantly weakening habitat protection and removing triggers for environmental assessment when fish habitat is compromised. Although the Liberals promised to restore those lost protections, it’s been almost two years—and we’re still waiting.
Since 2012, Canada’s New Democrats have called on successive governments to immediately restore the lost habitat protections in the Fisheries Act. While we wait, the Liberal government continues to approve major infrastructure projects across the country that will destroy fish habitat. These approvals show the need for a restored Fisheries Act. Worse, they continue to make exceptions to the existing act to allow some of the most destructive projects on the planet to move forward. A recent example of this gross abuse of ministerial power is the approval of KSM in British Columbia, which will become the largest open pit mine in North America when it opens. Building the mine will require, for tailings storage, destruction of upper tributaries of the North Treaty and South Teigen Creeks, which flow into the salmon bearing Nass and Bell-Irving Rivers. Alarmingly, KSM will store more than 27 times the amount of tailings stored at Mount Polley using the same technology that failed three years ago.
Harper’s Navigable Waters Act
When the Conservatives dismantled the Navigable Waters Act, they stripped environmental protection from 98% of our rivers, lakes, and streams. These rivers now have no federal protection, which means an individual or group that depends on a waterway for a fishery must go to court to challenge a development it believes impedes navigation.
During the 2015 federal election, the Liberal Party criticized the Harper government’s “elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act” and solemnly promised to “review these changes, restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards.” Voters backed this pledge and helped elect the government. Sadly, it looks like Trudeau is not interested in keeping this promise.
The Liberal-dominated committee reviewing the Act failed to recommend the government restore these critical lost protections for our riversheds. As a result, the Trudeau government has failed to restore the gutted protections that had been in place for decades to protect 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers from mining, pipeline, fish farm, and powerline projects. The Trudeau government’s Harper-like streak of project approvals is deceitful at best.
Harper’s Policies, Harper’s Projects
Not long after taking office, Justin Trudeau found the former Prime Minister’s rubber stamp and got busy approving the very same projects the Conservatives approved, or would have approved. He seems to have no recollection of his campaign promise for a complete overhaul of our existing National Energy Board review process or environmental assessment process, or of his explicit promise to re-evaluate the deeply flawed Kinder Morgan Pipeline expansion review process. Instead, he approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, increasing traffic in Burrard Inlet from 8 to 34 tankers per month; approved the construction of the now defunct Pacific North West LNG terminal on critical salmon spawning grounds; he cleared the way for development of the Site C dam; and, approved the massive KSM mine project.
Protecting Wild Salmon
Open-net salmon farming, sea lice, disease, and marine pollution remain threats for wild salmon in British Columbia. In 2016, I proposed a private members bill that would transition harmful open-net salmon farms to safe, closed containment technology. Despite their commitment to implement the Cohen Commission Recommendations; despite government scientists confirming the presence of dangerous diseases in open-net salmon farms; despite their commitment to use the precautionary principle; and, despite most of BC MPs voting in favour of the bill, the Liberals voted to defeat my bill and continue to endanger wild salmon. I hope the recent salmon farm escape event in Washington State will serve as a wake-up call for this government, to transition this industry to safer technology.
This Prime Minister has failed to deliver on his promises to protect our environment and in doing so has worsened the situation facing the wild salmon fishery. Given his blatant disregard for his own rhetoric and campaign promises, one must question his motives and intent. Wild salmon are in trouble and if we cannot convince the government to reverse course immediately, it deserves to be replaced.
Fin Donnelly is the chair & founder of the Rivershed Society of BC. The RSBC’s vision is salmon flourishing in rivers, people flourishing in riversheds. Our mission is to conserve, protect, and restore BC’s riversheds within a generation. Our two main programs are FraserFEST and the Sustainable Living Leadership Program.