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General · 2nd May 2012
Elizabeth May
The single biggest assault on environmental law was tabled last Thursday morning in the House – to nary a whimper. No front page headlines. No media interviews for Opposition parties for the major networks. True, we will likely hear more outrage as people wade through the 428 page Budget Implementation Bill, C-38. But, for now, the Harper Conservatives have stolen environmental protection in plain sight.

It was a classic case of media manipulation. Starting with the early January Joe Oliver open letter, then the House of Commons Environment Committee report (hurried after pulling the plug on hearings on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act after 9 days). The mandatory 5-year review of the legislation was expected to take months, but the deadline of having a justification for an assault on Environmental Assessment in time for the budget required a fast report (written in secret). The dance of the seven veils continued with the March 29th budget, highlighting the “streamlining of reviews” and then Joe Oliver’s Earth Week Press Conference to explain what was planned.

Environmental groups and Opposition parties (rightly) expressed outrage at every stage. Media and others thought the main changes would have to do with fixed time-lines for EAs and the plan to allow provinces to take over environmental reviews. By the time the Harper Conservatives slipped the fine print into the 428 page Budget Implementation Bill, C-38, everyone was geared to ask about timelines in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Why not have shorter hearings? Why not modernize the Act?

Meanwhile the Fisheries Act had never been mentioned at all in the budget on March 29. The only Fisheries reference in the budget was a few lines saying DFO will “restructure its operations, consolidate internal services and leverage technologies to realize efficiencies and achieve savings.” Nothing in the budget talked about overhauling the definition of fish habitat.

On Tuesday, Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield announced that changes were coming in the Fisheries Act, with a new focus on commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries, instead of all fish — as has been the case for generations.

More outrage, but with a lot of confusion. The answers appeared to contradict themselves. Wait for the fine print, we were told.