Federal Fisheries Act under Harper’s knife: NDP

The federal NDP says the Harper government has plans to "gut" one of the strongest and longest-standing environmental laws in the country - the Fisheries Act.

The federal NDP says the Harper government has plans to “gut” one of the strongest and longest-standing environmental laws in the country – the Fisheries Act.

And it thought it could do it without anyone noticing, said NDP fisheries critic Fin Donnelly.

The general plan is to take the words “habitat protection” out of the federal Fisheries Act, said Donnelly.

That’s according to a leaked document released by retired federal fisheries biologist Otto Langer, he said.

Langer’s leaked information disclosed that the plan is to tack this change onto a budget omnibus bill, said Donnelly.

“There’s always a risk to leaked information as to whether it’s true or not, but because it was Otto Langer, who was 32 years with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans – he’s a well-respected fisheries scientist – I absolutely trust Otto,” he said.

“I think he’s got an impeccable record as a solid scientist. When he got this information and said it was from a solid source, I believed him. I went and brought it up to the minister in question period in the House. And the response I got from the minister, Keith Ashfield was, essentially, he didn’t deny it.”

Donnelly issued a news release about the leaked information on March 13. Three days later, Ashfield’s office released an official statement.

“The government is reviewing fish and fish-habitat-protection policies to ensure they do not go beyond their intended conservation goals,” the four-sentence statement began.

“The government has been clear that the existing policies do not reflect the priorities of Canadians. We want to focus our activities on protecting natural waterways that are home to the fish Canadians value most, instead of on flooded fields and ditches.”

“I’d like to know what they think is inaccurate,” Donnelly said of Ashfield’s statement.

He called Ashfield’s claim and the attempt to distract the issue with “flooded fields and ditches” as simply “outrageous.”

The minister’s statement clarified that “no decision has been made.”

After more question periods and meetings of the standing committee on Fisheries and Oceans – of which Ashfield, Donnelly and the Yukon’s MP Ryan Leef are all members – Donnelly said he had even more confidence in the leaked information.

Since the issue was made public, two former Conservative fisheries ministers have spoken out about it.

John Fraser, and his successor, Tom Siddon – both from B.C. and both minister of Fisheries and Oceans under Brian Mulroney – have called the speculated change

“a very serious error.”

Both allege the people proposing the changes “aren’t Conservatives at all.” They suspect the pressure to make the change is coming from industry, citing Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project, and others.

“Their agenda is pipelines, mines and major industrial projects that the country is about to embark on in the next 10 years or so,” said Donnelly.

“Those two words – habitat protection – are what they would call an annoyance or not in the best interest of Canadians. I think salmon and water fundamentally represent (Canada’s) way of life. Jobs are important. The economy is critical. But we need to have a healthy environment as well.”

Concerns for fish habitat are what trigger most regulations and environmental assessments, Donnelly said. But critics often say the process takes too much time and money.

In the territory, the much-lauded Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act would lose a lot of its teeth if the fisheries act is watered down. Currently, when a project is being considered, federal fish biologists are called to do their own assessment to add to the information before the board.

Without the obligation under the federal act, federal workers wouldn’t be called in to do that work, Donnelly said.

The Yukon’s Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board didn’t want to talk about this possible change because it’s still just speculation.

If “habitat protection” were removed from the Fisheries Act, the protection of fish would still be law, but how could they separate the two? asked Donnelly.

Changes to fish habitat are obvious – a riverbed is destroyed, water is contaminated.

But it tends to take years to see changes in fish stocks and samples and it is even more difficult to prove the connection between human activity and changes in fish, Donnelly said. By then, it is usually much too late.

If (habitat protection) is out of the act, it will essentially render the act useless – neuter it, gut it, there’s a million terms you can use – but it will not be what it was designed to do,” said Donnelly.

“We should be looking at this in a big way. In my short career of three years as a member of Parliament and fisheries critic, I have never seen anything as fundamentally disastrous as this.”

Leef was not available for comment.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two people walk up the stairs past an advance polling sign at the Canda Games Centre on April 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
April 12 is polling day: Here’s how to vote

If in doubt, electionsyukon.ca has an address-to-riding tool

Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon addressing media at a press conference on April 8. The territorial election is on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Currie Dixon and the Yukon Party platform

A closer look at the party leader and promises on the campaign trail

Yukon NDP leader Kate White, surrounded by socially distanced candidates, announces her platform in Whitehorse on March 29. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Kate White and the Yukon NDP Platform

A detailed look at the NDP platform and Kate White’s leadership campaign this election

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Sandy Silver announces the territorial election in Whitehorse. Silver is seeking a second term as premier and third term as Klondike MLA. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Getting to know Sandy Silver and the Yukon Liberal platform

Yukon Liberal Leader Sandy Silver is vying for a second term as… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks to media in Whitehorse on October 30, 2020. Hanley is now encouraging Yukon to continue following health regulations, noting it could still be some time before changes to restrictions are made. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
No active COVID cases in Yukon

Hanley highlights concerns over variants, encourages vaccinations

Most Read