Former MP charges Tory gov’t ‘gutting’ fisheries act

Chilliwack MP draws fire for facilitating meeting with farmers concerned with fishery regulations.

Former fisheries minister Tom Siddon is openly criticizing the Tory government’s “gutting” of the federal Fisheries Act by removing fish habitat protection measures.

And Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl may have jumped from the frying pan into the fire when he held a one-sided “roundtable” last month that brought local mayors with a beef about fisheries regulations together with the parliamentary secretary to the fisheries minister.

Chris Gadsden, a fisheries activist in Chilliwack, said he “applauded” Strahl for holding the roundtable meeting, but “he should also be sitting around this same table with environmental groups as well as First Nations to hear their concerns.”

“With all the talk lately about the proposed changes … by not meeting with these groups it continues to raise concerns about the lack of transparency by government these days, both provincially and federally.”

Gadsden said one of the main reasons the BC Liberals lost the Chilliwack-Hope byelection “is losing touch with the voting public.”

“If Mr. Strahl, along with his fellow MPs visit the Fraser Valley again, he should consider meeting with those that sent him to Ottawa, to represent all of us.”

But Strahl defended the meeting, saying the roundtable was an “opportunity” for elected officials to share their concerns about fisheries regulations with Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp, parliamentary secretary to the fisheries minister, and with Calgary Centre MP Michelle Rempel, parliamentary secretary to the environment minister.

“I didn’t pretend it was a debate on the issues or it was a townhall meeting,” Strahl told The Progress.

He also said the government is not removing protection for fisheries habitat, but looking for a “common-sense” approach to preserving the environment and protecting species at risk.

“I wanted my (MP) colleagues to hear firsthand how the current heavy-handed approach of the bureaucracy is affecting my constituents,” Strahl said.

Farmers have been pushing for changes to the act for years, saying it doesn’t recognize the difference between fish-bearing streams and drainage ditches that need to be periodically cleared. Under the proposed changes, government would no longer protect all waterways that “may” contain fish.

Strahl said the aim is to focus the government’s limited environmental protection resources “on those areas that are the highest concern.”

Marvin Rosenau, a vocal fisheries critic, said he wasn’t surprised by Strahl’s one-sided roundtable meeting.

“Mark Strahl is leading the charge of eco-fascists intent on making the last dime off the backs of the last remnants of an absolutely spectacular eco-system,” he charged.

Rosenau, a former provincial biologist and now a fisheries instructor at BCIT, said an “extremely good” inventory has been collected on the ditches that farmers claim hold no fishery value.

“We know what goes on in those so-called non fish habitat ditches,” he said. “Essentially, what these farmers are doing is industrializing the landscape.”

He said some of the “engineered” ditches “are simply coho streams re-arranged for irrigation.”

“A massive and productive floodplain of fish and aquatic values … has been drained, ditched, tiled and laser-levelled for agricultural profit,” he said.

“All we’ve got left is a tiny fraction of the vast schools of coho that once thrived in the floodplains of the Fraser River,” he said.

Siddon told reporters earlier this month that he is “appalled” by the Conservative government’s attempt to “gut the fisheries act under the radar” in Omnibus Bill C-38 that includes proposed changes to the National Pipeline Act, the Environmental Assessment Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Exploration Act.

A former Conservative MP, Siddon charged the Tory government is clearing the way for major economic projects by speeding up approval processes contained in the legislation.

rfreeman@theprogress.com