By David McRobert (with input from Douglas Macdonald, School of the Environment, University of Toronto; and Miriam Diamond, Department of Geography, University of Toronto
On July 6th, 2012, The Globe and Mail published an op-ed article I co-authored with Miriam Diamond and Doug Macdonald, two professors at the University of Toronto, about the revisions to the Fisheries Act contained in Bill C-38. (The full text appears below.) Shortly afterwards, an anonymous letter arrived telling us that on June 27, 2012, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) terminated the jobs of all fish habitat officers in DFO’s 48 local habitat offices. This is part of the third round of cuts to DFO, in line with the budget Bill C-38. As the letter writer said, “regardless of the law, with no enforcement, fish habitat destruction becomes the de facto rule of law.”
Other sources from DFO and recently retired staff have advised us that staff in Central and Arctic Region of DFO were told in late June 2012 that their Department’s overall regional staffing will be reduced from pre-2012 budget levels of 155 to 85 by April 1, 2014 at the latest. Only four DFO Habitat offices will remain open serving a territory larger than Europe — Yellowknife, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Burlington. All the DFO satellite offices, which includes 8 offices in Ontario alone (including Peterborough), will close.
These revelations have stark implications in view of the claims that that the revised Fisheries Act will have tougher penalty provisions and additional reporting requirements. The question must be asked: to whom will the corporations who contravene the supposedly new stronger provisions report? Stephen Harper, Peter Kent, Jim Flaherty and Joe Oliver? Are the new provisions “symbolic legislation”, intended to persuade the public that something is indeed being done when the truth is that the new law is all “smoke and mirrors”, befitting the performances of a late 19th stage conjurer and intended to assuage, mislead and deliberately deceive the media, lawyers, the public and investors?
As a follow-up to its recent and ongoing coverage on fisheries issues raised by Bill C-38 (which we applaud), The Globe and Mail published another recent lengthy article (July 21) on the profound regulatory challenges related to fisheries management in the Arctic posed by climate change (“Climate change opens up Arctic fisheries – but should Canada cut bait?”). This was a timely and well-constructed article by Peter Christie. I urge you to read Christie’s juxtaposition of the staggering challenges associated with undertaking adequate Arctic fisheries management in the face of the sparse data that has been collected in the three decades since the Inuvialuit began a limited Arctic char harvesting program in the early 1980s under the terms of its Comprehensive Lands Claims Agreement covering the Western Arctic and the vast Beaufort Sea.
In 2011, as Christie reports, the Inuvialuit pushed for and secured an agreement with the federal government to effectively declare large parts of the Beaufort Sea off-limits to commercial fishing in the near term. Burton Ayles of the Joint Fisheries Management Committee that oversees the Western Arctic fisheries notes that the “Inuvialuit saw examples around the world of collapses of commercial fisheries because of overfishing” and decided to push for greater controls.
Then, as if to muddy the proverbial waters, I received an e-mail newsletter from a large Toronto law firm earlier this week which confidently proclaims that all is well, and that Canada’s Fisheries will thrive under the new law and the adapted DFO administrative systems.
If you believe that the Arctic fisheries, as well as others in Canada, will receive greater protection under this new legal regime, I have an exciting piece of real estate to sell you on an ice sheet near Hershel Island north of Baffin Island and near Greenland. Only $25 million. Loads of potential. (But I can’t promise it will exist in five years.)
Based on my work at the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario and at the Ministry of the Environment, I tend to believe that federal regulation of resources and the environment is more uniform and consistent than local and provincial regulation, providing that officials in federal departments are provided with adequate resources and support from their political masters.
The question we believe that should be debated is this: is the Harper government trading oversight of a critically important Canadian resource so that it can increase the resources available for our ever-expanding prison system?