Improving the proposed Federal Environmental Legislation (Bills C-68 & C-69)

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Submission regarding Bills C-68 and C-69 to:

  • Honourable Ministers Jim Carr, Marc Garneau, Dominic LeBlanc, and Catherine McKenna, and to the Standing Committee of Parliament on Environment and Sustainable Development.  

From:

  • Ann Pohl, on behalf of Kent County NB Chapter, Council of Canadians (coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com — March 15, 2018)

 

During the various stages of consultation on revitalizing and reorienting the Acts contained in Bills C-68 and C-69, members of our chapter of the Council of Canadians participated in three public sessions and submitted several related briefs to government.

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Our Neighbourhood

These new Bills were introduced in the federal parliament on February 6 and 8, 2018. More recently the Government of Canada made a call-out for comments on C-69 in particular, saying submissions should be filed with the Standing Committee as soon as possible. However, we also have some concerns about C-68.

We have taken every opportunity to understand what is envisaged by the Bills. In general we are pleased to see a number of proposals for positive initiatives, but there are substantial gaps and some serious concerns. Here then, in point form, are our comments for how to improve these proposed Acts to provide the quality of environmental protection and management that our grandchildren need.

Concerns about the Review Panels

  1. The Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) is supposed to be able to independently evaluate proposals based on science, traditional/community knowledge, and other factors. Conflicts of interest may well undermine these good intentions because Bill C-69 authorizes at least one member (possibly more) of the Canadian Energy Regulator (CER), Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), and/or Nova Scotia or Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Boards to sit on the IAA’s review panels. For example, CER has no requirement to consider climate pledges or cumulative impacts: there is not one mentions of climate change in the entire proposed CER Act in Bill C-69. Each of these agencies is supposed to provide the IAA with a roster of panelists to choose from, putting their experts inside the decision-making process to advocate/lobby for the energy industry. This opportunity, this place of honour, is not extended to environmental organizations.
  2. The Government’s promotion of this legislation has stressed that there will be one process for all assessments. Yet, this does not seem to be the case.
    • It appears that not all proposals relevant to the offshore petroleum boards will be required to go through the CCEA impact assessment process: the NS and NL/LB offshore boards will also continue their own assessment processes. Although Bill C-69 gives the CER and IAA their own multifunctional mandates and scientific capacities, the offshore boards’ mandates narrowly and clearly favour offshore oil and gas development with no meaningful checks and balances for impact on the environment. Effectively, they have greater authority and autonomy through Bill C-69.
    • Furthermore, the Bill empowers the Minister to substitute provincial processes that he or she deems to be “equivalent” for the proposed new federal IA process.
  1. The new IAA will continue the faulty but cost-saving practice of relying on industrial proponents to research, report on and advise government on the relevant environmental concerns in their projects, and how to address these issues. To stretch an analogy we have used many times before, this is akin to asking the fox to report on the structural concerns related to a proposed hen-house, and how to address these matters.

Discretionary Power of “The Minister” in proposed new Acts:

  1. Although hearing panels can identify adverse impacts, the Minister (or Cabinet, or “Governor in Council”) retains very broad discretionary powers under Bills C-68 and C-69. Some specific reasons for concern about this in regards to the IAA include:
    • It appears the Minister can invoke a very broad “public interest” determination to short-cut to approval at various stages of an Impact Assessment. the Minister’s uncircumscribed power to determine what is relevant in making her or his decision totally undermines the pledges this government to restore public trust, ensure transparency/accountability, and ensure that decisions are based on valid information. As it stands, political considerations could quash all indicators of what is truly in the public interest, allowing for a decision that is instead in the interest of corporations but would be terrible for the environment and population health.
    • The IA process addresses only major projects designated by regulation or Ministerial order. Smaller projects that may cause dire local or ecosystem impacts are not going to be caught through this mechanism, moreso because it appears the Bill allows the IAA to forego impact assessment for designated projects based on Minister’s discretion. As well, the timelines for public input are quite restrictive.
    • It is not clear at all how regional, strategic assessment, and public input will influence minister’s determination, and the Minister is not even required by the proposed legislation to respond to these inputs.
  1. While many of the changes in Bill C-68’s rewrite of the Fisheries Act are excellent, there is a fundamental weakness in the vague wording that the Minister “may or may not” (emphasis added) consider: “(a) the application of a precautionary approach and an ecosystem approach; (b) the sustainability of fisheries; (c) scientific information; (d) traditional knowledge of the Indigenous peoples of Canada that has been provided to the Minister; (e) community knowledge; (f) cooperation with any government of a province, any Indigenous governing body and any body — including a co-management body — established under a land claims agreement; (g) social, economic and cultural factors in the management of fisheries; (h) the preservation or promotion of the independence of licence holders in commercial inshore fisheries; and (i) the intersection of sex and gender with other identity factors.” All of these are crucial factors that must be considered in all cases where they are relevant, and most likely that would be virtually all cases. A simple change to “the Minister will” is imperative.
  2. Given the complexity of Bill C-69, it is not clear if this issue of broad discretionary power is also a concern in regards to the new proposed Canadian Navigation Protection Act. If so, that must be addressed as well. However, it is noteworthy that the Minister (in this case, of Transport) will have discretionary powers to act directly in regards to obstructions in navigable waters. Is this a new power, previously absent? Perhaps we are being too presumptive, as the example given by the government is sunken ships, but would this also include the right to take whatever steps are necessary to remove water protectors who are exercising their rights to peacefully assemble in the water?
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Walk to Protect the Water, Sikniktuk Mi’kma’ki, Fall 2016

What Is/Is Not Protected in the Proposed Canadian Navigable Waters Act:

  1. Notwithstanding the issue of Ministerial discretion (mentioned above), the new Act does not restore protections to the vast majority of Canada’s waterways. The first problem is the Act’s definition of what is “navigable waters.” The usual understanding is that navigable waters are any river or lake deep enough to float a boat, but the new definition has four criteria that serve to seriously constrict the application of the Act to only specific navigable waterways. For example, it seems that a stream flowing through privately held extraction industry land might not fit the definition and therefore would be exempt from this Act’s protections, regardless of its potentiality to cause great bioregion damage if used for some industrial purposes.
  2. The proposed new Act sets out three categories of development that may take place on a waterway: minor works (that get approval without public input if they meet the established critieria); major works (dams, etc.), and works which are proposed for a lake or river on the Schedule of Navigable Waters. Only a few waterways are included in the current proposed Schedule of Navigable Waters, and it is incumbent on individual Canadians or over-stretched civil society and environmental organizations to apply to restore protections to the thousands of lakes and rivers navigated in Canada.
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2 & 1/2 years ago: restore protections to EVERY lake and river.

Fisheries Act:

  1. Bill 68 sets out many positive aspects to this new proposed Act. The best part is that considerable meaningful protection is being extended to fish habitat — not just the habitat of food fishery fish, but all fish. Also included are a number of pathways for implementing these protections.
  2. Nonetheless, broad discretionary powers are available to the Minister, in a government department which has historically had major issues regarding public dialogue and engagement. Only “large-scale” projects will require a review. Worse still, there is a continued reliance on “Letters of Advice,” which have been identified as a signficant pathway for avoiding a bona fide assessment, and a matter of concern for many years among environmental organizations.
  3. Given the fragile state of many fish stocks and marine creatures in general, as well as the declining health of salt water environments around the planet, including notably the Gulf of Maine, it is essential to stay up-to-the minute on scientific and traditional knowledge and observations. For that reason, this Act should include a commitment to report on state of fish and fish habitat on an annual or biennial basis.

Public Participation:

  1. Although the issue of who has “standing” has been resolved in regards to the proposed CER, and there is a promise that the public will be allowed to participate earlier in the IA process, there is almost no detail on how the government will extend the rights to the public to participate in the various agency reviews, or along the steps of the IA process. All that the Minister is so far required to do is to provide “an opportunity to the public to participate” during the planning stage of an IA, and in any regional or strategic assessments (which are not fleshed out in the Bill, and remain “discretionary”). The IAA has some power to decide on participant funding if it has a budget to do so, but it is not evident if there is a similar provision for reviews done by other agencies, for example the offshore petroleum boards. It seems like this aspect has not been fully thought-out by the government. To restore public trust, more detail and certainty about the public’s rights and opportunity to participate is required.
  2. The “public registry” is a great proposal. Once it is up and running, this will be very useful to all those who are interested in a project or a bioregion’s health, provided that the public is aware of its existence and has good access to it. However, it is imperative that the registration system ALSO requires notifications from proponents directly to all affected populations rather than simply relying on an online registry.

Sustainability Criteria and Strategic Assessments:

  1. Other analysts have commented on definitions that are absent from these Bills. We note the definition for “sustainability” is so vague it could not be used to clarify any issue. For example, why does this definition not include the concept of ecosystem or bioregion? Fix this, or we will all be going the long, expensive way around, using the courts to detail these definitions.
  2. Similarly, there is very little useful detail on the proposed optional or discretionary regional or strategic assessments, although for the latter there is a federal government policy and process in place that has been standing still for almost a decade now.

Addressing the Climate Crisis

  1. The words “climate change” appear exactly four times in Bill C-69 – and only in the IAA Act. The first is in the title of the federal Minister McKenna; the second in the preamble to the Impact Assessment Agency Act; the third is in the list of “considerations” relevant for an impact assessment; and the last is in the list of factors for the Minister to keep in mind when making a “determination.” This is shocking considering that climate change is definitely the hugest environmental issue of our time, related to almost all other environmental and population impact and health issues.
  2. Between 2004 and 2009, the federal civil service developed this tool for strategic assessment (see references below), so it already exists. The standard for measurement is also available (Paris Agreement). In June 2017, the government of Canada undertook to begin Strategic Assessments on major environmental issues, and commited that the first one would address climate issues. The language in Bill C69 is vague on Strategic Assessments and gets us no closer to the task and completion of this initial climate strategic assessment. Time to get it going on this Climate Strategic Assessment now! This assessment would and must set the context for all the work done through impact assessments, panel reviews, Ministerial discretionary orders, regulation-based approval processes. Flowing from this, federal legislation can more effectively move urgently towards the 100% clean energy economy that will ensure survival for some life on our planet.
  3. Bill C-69 falls short in not creating an arms-length independent centre with a specific mandate for energy data collection, information and education. Despite much discussion about this prior to and throughout the consultation process, there is no plan. This data would enable viable scientific forecasts about what energy production is needed for the “national interest.” It is also crucial for monitoring Canada’s success in dealing with climate protection promises and goals.
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Mandi’s contribution to our chapter’s Earth Day 2017 youth art exhibit.

Indigenous Peoples’ Rights to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent:

  1. Nowhere in these Bills is there reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada has agreed to uphold and implement at all levels. This includes of course the principle of free, prior and informed consent in all stages of the impact assessment process. Good words are spoken but the legal requirements to enact this commitment, within the proposed legislation, are absent.
  2. If the CER is mandated to deliver on Indigenous (Aboriginal) consultation duties, will this hold up at the Supreme Court?

Putting the Money where the Mouth Is:

  1. We regret that we have not done a comprehensive review of what got funded and what did not in the federal budget for 2018. It appears that a considerable amount of money has been set aside to restore much-needed scientific, conservation, and enforcement capacity to the Departments of Fisheries and Oceans and of Environment and Climate Change, which were gutted of this expertise during the 10 years of the Harper government. If this money is spent for this purpose, great news!
  2. Funds are also needed for climate change research (and the database mentioned above), as well as strategic assessments of major industries such as fossil fuel hydrofracking, tar sands extraction, majors dams, methylmercury pollution associated with clear-cutting, drinking water aquifer and other source inventory, and water export impacts on Canada’s drinking water supply, as well as reinstating fresh-water and science research programs cut from federal departments, etc. When the government commits these funds, alongside the improvements to this legislation under discussion, as suggested above and by other environmental and population health organizations, then we will know that our grandchildren’s futures are more secure.

Risky and contentious deep water offshore fossil fuel exploratory drilling, by BP, south of Nova Scotia, was approved by Minister McKenna only a week before Bills C-68 and C-69 were introduced in Parliament. Elements of this proposal underscore many concerns we present in this submission. Thank you, merci, wela’liek for taking the time to review our concerns set out in this document.

References:

Blakes’ Business Class. Federal Government Overhauls Canadian Environmental Legislation

Canadian Environmental Law Association. The Federal Government’s Proposed Impact Assessment Act: Some Forward Progress, but Changes Needed to Ensure Sustainability.

Council of Canadians: Cautions to consider as Trudeau government tables water and energy project review legislation; Will today’s announcement usher in new legislation to protect every lake and every river?; Cautions to consider as Trudeau government tables water and energy project review legislation; (NWT Chapter.) Letter on C-69 to federal environment minister Catherine McKenna.

DeSmog Canada. ‘We’re Under Assault’: Feds Quietly Approve Deepwater Oil Drilling Off Nova Scotia.

Environmental Defence. WATCH: Putting all projects to the “Climate Test”

Government of Canada: Strategic Environmental Assessment; Environmental and Regulatory Reviews: Discussion Paper; (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) Better Management of Projects; Bill C-69.

Lawson Lundell LLP. Canada: Impact Assessment Agency – An Overview

Parliament of Canada. Bill C-69 House Debate.

West Coast Environmental Law Association: The problems with the new Canadian Navigable Waters Act; Sweeping new federal environmental law bill contains promising changes, say environmental lawyers

World Wildlife Fund – Canada. Impact Assessment Act needs to do more to safeguard nature.

York Faculty of Environmental Studies. (Sustainable Energy Initiative.) Has Trudeau Delivered? A Discussion of Bills C-68 and C-69

 

 

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Federal proposal for “protecting” the Laurentian Channel does not do that.

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Herring provide a feed off Newfoundland, George Griffen.

Kent County NB Chapter, Council of Canadians
coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com

July 11, 2017

The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc,
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
Attention: Christie Chute, Manager, Marine Conservation Program
Integrated Oceans Management, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
200 Kent Street, Room 12W127, Ottawa, ON K1A 0E6
Oceans-NL@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

RE: PRELIMINARY QUESTIONS & COMMENTS
concerning the proposed Marine Protected Area for the Laurentian Channel,
in reference to Canada Gazette Part I notice (June 24, 2017)

Dear Minister Dominic LeBlanc:

As you are aware, Minister LeBlanc, our Kent County NB Chapter of the Council of Canadians has written you several times previously about east coast marine life, coastal, and ocean protection issues.

We are relatively new to engaging with government on these matters, and learning as we go. After carefully reading the Canada Gazette notice re: designation of a Marine Protected Area in the Laurentian Channel (LCMPA) between mainland Canada and Newfoundland, we reviewed the concerns of esteemed expert organizations such as the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the Ecology Action Centre (EAC), World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Canada), and the Sierra Club.  As well, we have listened to comments from marine scientists in our own Council of Canadians network. At the same time, we have been reading through your government’s discussion paper Environmental and Regulatory Reviews (ERR) on how to “regain public trust” in regards to federal environmental protection processes.

We feel it is best to approach this particular topic by asking some questions. After we get the answers, we will be better able to write a submission on the LCMPA proposal.

The Science-Based Risk Assessment

The Gazette notice says that a “science-based risk assessment” was done in 2012. Regrettably, the notice does not provide a link or a citation to the aforementioned science-based risk assessment.

As keen observers of government, we know the early years of this decade were a time of great upheaval in your department. The government of that day, under Stephen Harper, tore apart federal environmental protection legislation, scientific research capacity, enforcement capacity, etc. and in fact muzzled many professionals whose researched conclusions did not synchronize with the Conservative government’s industrial development goals.

Your government has been working hard to change this culture of repression and narrow focus. ERR states, “There is a need for greater transparency around the science, data and evidence” (p1)… “in all aspects of environmental assessment and regulatory processes, from making data and science accessible to clearly communicating the basis for decisions” (p11). Sadly, this excellent objective is not met in the Gazette announcement of the LCMPA proposal. There is no route in the Gazette text to access information on the 2012 assessment, nor any other scientific evidence for the proposal as it presently stands.

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All community members who care about oceans, marine creatures and coastal life need to know the 2012 assessment’s terms of reference, content, personnel, and precise recommendations. Given that it was prepared during the Harper government era, we need to be certain that the assessment was done free from political intervention by truly qualified and unbiased external experts. We ask:

  1. Could you please provide us with a copy of this assessment material as well as the information about who prepared it, and their terms of reference?

Basics of the Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area (LCMPA) Proposal

Life on our entire planet depends on the global community fully addressing the principles established at the United Nations’ Oceans Conference last month: to ensure sustainability of the world’s oceans and the life within them. For starters, oceans produce about 70% of our planet’s oxygen. The warming trend and other side-effects of climate change are already causing de-oxygenation of our oceans, which is already having disastrous impacts. Then there is the plastics issue. All species in the ocean are at some state of risk from one anthropogenic cause or another. For humans, food security and rising waters are serious concerns. The list of human-made damage continues to grow, and appears endless.

When members of our organization first heard about the “Marine Protected Areas” and the related plan to establish use-zoning districts in relation to the Bay of Fundy, we were not convinced. How could mapping right-of-ways and slender no-go zones do anything to address the ongoing oceanic ecoapocalypse? Ironically, the marine scientist whose encouraged us to appreciate potential strengths of MPAs and related strategies is Dr. Rodolphe Devillers of Memorial University in Newfoundland. Dr. Devillers is now speaking out about the limitations of this LCMPA proposal, in an article published in Hakai Magazine on May 9-17.

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When designing marine protection, conservation goals are absolutely paramount, and the task requires undivided focus. We understand that DFO is very vulnerable to industry pressure because of its multilateral mandated responsibilities. Your department is charged to work with diverse stakeholders: commercial fisheries, small independent fishers, ecotourism entrepreneurs, coastal resident communities, and environmental organizations. In many instances, middle ground between these sectors must be found, to accommodate survival of all creatures depending on the salt water for life, including human beings. However, when it comes to ocean, marine life and coastal protection, there is no middle ground on the need to establish firmly protected, inviolate areas in our salt water bodies. This is humanity’s only hope for a future.

Returning again to the just-released Government of Canada discussion paper Environmental and Regulatory Reviews, it acknowledges, “Government does not effectively communicate how science and data are weighed or contribute to federal decision making.” This is precisely the stumbling block we hit as we tried to understand why recent changes were made to the original proposed area and conservation goals of the proposed LCMPA. So we ask:

  1. Given Canada’s international and domestic commitments to protect 5% of our coastal waters by the end of 2017, why were the boundaries for the LCMPA cut by one-third?

  2. Why were ten species found in the Laurentian Channel, and originally identified as needing protection, not included in the final list of protected species for this MPA?

  3. Why were cod and redfish fisheries not given further conservation support?

  4. As suggested in a June 21, 2017 article, did some of these changes happen after “closed-door meetings” with petroleum and other industry officials?

  5. Were your own in-house regional marine experts at “DFO Science” asked to report on the original LCMPA concept and/or on the recent diminishment of the proposal?

If there is a DFO Science report on this proposal, please forward us a copy by return email.           (** Note to Reader: see video insert at the end of this letter. **)

Adaptive Management Zone

The apparent need for the term “adaptive” to describe Zones 2a and 2b is tangible evidence of the conflictive pressure industry puts on DFO, when DFO is trying to do serious conservation. This situation is illuminated by reasons offered for the term “adaptive” in the Gazette text. A five-year review will allow DFO to see if conservation measures can be eased (“adapted”) to suit industry’s objectives of increasing commercial catch areas and species. If a regular review process is to be established in the regulations for this proposed MPA, it should be a comprehensive public review allowing for broad, transparent stakeholder input to examine tightening conditions throughout the MPA in all Zones, as well as consideration of appropriate response to any fishery rebounds.

  1. Will you comprehensively itemize the terms of reference for this intended review, including what will be considered, how various stakeholders can engage, will we be assisted by DFO to do so, and assuring all of wide public opportunity to engage?

Incompatible Uses

There is no excuse, and no basis in bona fide marine environmental science, for the inclusion in a marine protected area of:

  • oil and gas development (82% of the proposed MPA);

  • seismic activity (88% of the entire proposed MPA in each year);

  • underwater cables (100%; and although they may have a small footprint when laid, the work to lay them wreaks havoc);

  • major shipping routes (100%; while this falls into Transport Canada’s (TC) mandate, there is no evidence of DFO having attempted to engage TC to reduce it); and,

  • directional oil and gas drilling (98%, and recent scientific evidence is that this contributes to earthquake activity).

The inclusion of these totally incompatible uses in your proposal returns us to our opening question, although now we ask more broadly:

  1. Will you please provide copies of the scientific marine conservation research on which you based these questionable decisions you have proposed for the LCMPA?

Canada has committed, internationally and domestically, to protect 5% of our coastal waters for ongoing, unlimited, intensive conservation by the end of 2017, and 10% of our coastal waters by 2020. Diminishing the extent and content of the protection offered by this MPA is not the way to reach our goals. It undermines the entire meaning and value of the process.

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Canada has historically been a world leader on matters of principle put forth by the United Nations, a place of honour lost during the previous federal administration. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears willing to resume this mantle. Ocean protection is a very important place to reestablish our nation as a world leader for international social and economic justice, and vercome the decade of repression of science and environmental protection that the Harper government left as its legacy. We see DFO beginning to operate in a more open, transparent, and community-engaged manner. Now is the time to move “full speed ahead” with that. You will earn a lot of respect and support for doing marine protection the right way.

Thank you for this opportunity to make preliminary comments on, and ask questions about, the proposed LCMPA. We look forward to a prompt response to the above questions so that we can make a full submission before the final date, which we believe would be July 24, 2017 at the earliest.

Respectfully yours,

Ann Pohl
Kent County NB Chapter, Council of Canadians

copies: 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Dr. Rodolphe Devillers, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Sabine Jessen, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
Susanna Fuller, Ecology Action Centre
Megan Leslie, World Wildlife Fund-Canada
Gretchen Fitzgerald, Sierra Club
Brent Patterson, Council of Canadians
Emma Lui, Council of Canadians
Oceans & Marine Life Chapters Network, Council of Canadians

Play this video. Hear what a DFO Scientist says about this ocean treasure region.
Then ask yourself: “Why is there no NL DFO Science report cited in the Canada Gazette announcement for this proposal?”
…Could that be that NL DFO Science has NOT been asked to report,
because they would not agree with the proposal as written?   Hmmm…. 

 

NEEDED: realtime reporting from DFO on injured fish near Bay of Fundy tidal turbine

Letter sent today, and now copied to this blog.
Please consider writing to any recipients re: your concerns about these matters. 

Kent County Chapter, Council of Canadians
coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com
May 19, 2017

Regional Director General, Maritimes Region, DFO
PO Box 1006, 
1 Challenger Drive, Dartmouth NS B2Y 4A2
(transmitted by email <mary-ellen.valkenier@dfo-mpo.gc.ca>)

Dear Ms. Mary-Ellen Valkenier:

Ultimately, we would like to see an abundance of public faith in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) habitat and species protection services. This would mean we can all work together to protect our oceans and rivers for future generations. Building that positive relationship starts with accountability, openness, transparency, and – last but not least – communication.

For a week now, there have been social media reports from Nova Scotia about finding injured fish in the Minas Basin/Passage area. Here are just a few images of these fish with ugly, huge gashes on them.

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It is not at all clear what is causing this damage. Citizen scientists, fisherfolk and scholars seem to feel this is not caused by natural predators. Based on looking at the shape of the injuries, many people express the opinion that the damage was done by something metal. According to social media again, the fish who are being wounded are coming in from the Bay of Fundy, so they are necessarily swimming right past the Cape Sharp controversial experimental tidal turbine. The river fish, already upstream of the turbine, are fine.

We are pleased to learn, again from social media, that your department is taking this matter seriously and is sending investigatory personnel into the area promptly. We recall the apparent delays by DFO regarding investigatory personnel and resource allocation when the tragic herring die-off happened a few months ago in the upper Bay of Fundy. Many people believe this was related to the turbine, albeit in a different way. So, we are grateful for your diligent attention to this matter of the slashed fish in the same region.

In April 2017, Cape Sharp announced its turbine would be lifted from the Minas Passage by mid-month. We have recently learned that the turbine is still in its original location. According to social media, this is perhaps because something wrapped around the turbine has prevented its removal? It is also news on social media that the cables were cut. This would mean that the inadequate cameras that were there are no longer operating. However, although the turbine has been disconnected, another social media report says Cape Sharp has acknowledged that the blades are still turning, with the force of the world’s highest tides. The turbine is just outside the inlet where the injured fish are being found.

We also hear by social media that the Cape Sharp developer has announced its intention to place the turbine elsewhere in the Bay when they do manage to lift it. As the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association commented earlier this week, if true this is of grave concern to all who are concerned for the sustainability of marine animals who live in the Bay of Fundy. It is also noteworthy that it seems Cape Sharp has not engaged in an Environmental Assessment process to relocate their turbine elsewhere in the Fundy.

We are alarmed that all this information is coming to our chapter via social media. Our chapter is well known to DFO as being concerned about coastal and marine issues in this region. While we are pleased to learn that your department is taking this new crisis seriously and responding promptly, we want to underscore that receiving this information second- or third-hand via Facebook is far from ideal.

To ensure public confidence in your efforts, the huge number of concerned people must be kept up-to-date on your efforts and your findings (or lack of them) in real time. We trust you will begin immediately to share daily updates online about: what is being looked at by whom; what procedures are being done in these investigations; what you are looking for; and, what you are learning. You eventually got around to doing this with the herring issue. Please start now with this crisis. You may also learn some useful things by opening this dialogue.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Respectfully yours,

Ann Pohl
Kent County NB Chapter, Council of Canadians
coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com

copies to:

  • Council of Canadians Chapters across Canada 
  • Premier Stephen McNeil <premier@gov.ns.ca> 
  • The Hon Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries & Oceans Canada    <dominic.leblanc@parl.gc.ca> 
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau <justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca> 
  • Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisherman’s Association <colinsproul@hotmail.com>

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A Call Out to Mobilize for Coastal Life and Ocean Protection

Prepared for circulation to all Water Protectors:
Our Allies, in and around the Council of Canadians

Near Saglek Bay in Nunatsiavut, the homeland of the Labrador Inuit. ©Ossie Michelin

All waters—fresh and salt—are connected

For more than 30 years the Council of Canadians has been a leader on fresh water protection in Canada. In 1999, we published a comprehensive National Water Policy advocacy brief regarding how to protect watersheds and implementation of the human right to water.

Fresh water flows into the sea. Contaminants that flow into rivers and streams from industrial pollution, such as fracking and burst tailing pond dams, drain into estuaries, bays, seas, and oceans. These contaminants compound the abuse and neglect already poisoning the salt-watery majority of our planet. Survival of marine life, already stressed by acidification and warming waters, is further compromised.

The Council of Canadians is not loosening our efforts on freshwater issues. This is a “both/and,” because the planet’s waters are all connected. We are calling out across our organization, and to allies, to develop a coordinated, unified, strategic campaign on protecting coastal life and ocean waters. In a separate communication sent today, 24 chapters of the Council of Canadians ask the Prime Minister of Canada to meet with us to discuss the issues raised in this call to action.

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The magic of life in coastal waters, Gaburus, Cape Breton Island, NS. ©George Griffen

Our coasts are being neglected

Canada has a huge global stewardship responsibility. We have more oceanfront than any other nation. Gaining protective legislative and regulatory measures will not be easy. The plethora of issues is compounded by official lethargy and avoidance.

Every day, volunteers in the Council of Canadians‘ community chapters work with people from local networks and environmental NGO’s across Canada to advocate for marine life and salt water protection. We are united in alarm about the contamination that will certainly result from hundreds of oil and gas export tankers, each day, crossing the fragile and stressed waters of the Georgia Strait, Salish Sea, other western coastal waters, Bay of Fundy, Gulf of Maine, Beaufort Sea, and more of our shore waters. Much of the intended export material is bitumen, which truly cannot be cleaned from the water after a spill. Each of these areas provides habitats for designated species at risk and/or for marine life on which Indigenous Peoples and others depend for sustainable livelihoods.

In particular, Atlantic Canadians feel betrayed by government on marine protection: “Frankenfish” in PEI; aquaculture diseases spreading to wild populations (despite government assurances this would never happen); the evaporation of Newfoundland’s cod fishery; the loss of the salmon fishery in New Brunswick; the loss of some unique Striped Bass spawning habitat in Nova Scotia; off-shore drilling throughout the near Atlantic Ocean; etc.

Darren Porter’s Herring Weir, Minas Basin, NS. When other fish are caught,
such as this stupendous Striped Bass, they are released. ©Erica Danae Porter 

Countless millions of dead herring: a case in point

Beginning mid-November 2016, dramatic mortalities of herring were evident in the Bay of Fundy—a powerful, unique ecosystem boasting the highest tides in the world, and is home to rare species such as the Right Whale, provides spawning grounds for the Striped Bass, and has a flourishing ecotourism industry.

Why the big fuss about the humble herring? The herring are a primary food source for larger marine life in the Fundy, as well as people food, bait for shellfish traps, and a significant resource export. Without herring, the Fundy fisheries collapse.

Contrary to frequent public messaging, energy generation by tidal turbines can seriously harm marine life. Depending on design, direct strikes can kill and injure animals caught in the mechanism. Arguably more insidious is the noise, vibration and pressure change disruption of the marine environment. Many at-risk sea mammals, and forage fish like herring, have very sensitive auditory biology. Despite the urgent need to generate energy from non-fossil fuel sources, this calls into question tidal power’s “green” status.

In April 2016, the Science Advisory Committee for the Maritimes of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) reviewed a proposal to install an experimental tidal turbine in the upper Bay of Fundy. The DFO advisory committee clearly said the proponent’s baseline data was inadequate to establish an environmental monitoring plan. The province of Nova Scotia immediately approved the turbine’s deployment in the Minas Passage. Fishers’ associations are currently taking the province to court over this inconsistency.

Left: Busy Digby Harbour, NS. ©Pics by Mitch (FB)  
Right:  Sandy Beach, on the Northumberland Strait, NB. ©George Griffen

Turbine deployment happened in early November 2016. Within days of the onset of testing and commissioning, dead herring began beaching further down the Bay. DFO’s response was sluggish. While die-offs continued, the department spent weeks testing and retesting for “the usual suspects”: viruses, bacteria, algae bloom toxins, and predators. DFO acknowledged a unique “densification” or “aggregation” of herring in the die-off bays and coves (ie. overcrowding), but had no explanation for the phenomenon. (See this “A Sequel” link for more info on herringcide investigations and theories.) 

Many residents, including fisherfolk, are certain the herring were affected by the turbine. People who know these waters believe the herring fled from the Minas area to similar marine environments further down the Bay. Injured or overcrowded, that is where the herring were seen swimming abnormally, losing strength, and ultimately dying. Repeated calls to government and industry – to please stop the turbine to determine if it was the cause of the herring die-off, or to send cameras and divers to the bottom of the Fundy in the Minas area – were ignored.

Throughout the entire “herringcide” event, DFO refused to acknowledge that the synchronous turbine disruption of the Bay’s marine environment demanded serious evaluation. Many observers feel this is due to politics: Nova Scotia wants tidal turbines to succeed. The province has invested a lot of cash and political capital in creating the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) to start-up major tidal energy generation. Powerful corporations see a huge market for “green” Canadian electricity along the US eastern seaboard, involving undersea cable links from the controversial Muskrat Falls in Labrador, biomass generation at Point Tupper NS, and upcoming Fundy tidal generation.

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Seal near Annapolis Royal, off the Bay of Fundy, NS. ©Pix by Mitch (FB)

Deepening the public’s scorn for DFO’s controversial “look over here, not over there” herringcide investigation, a 2013 Memorandum of Understanding surfaced in early January 2017. This gives the National Energy Board responsibility to assess risk to fish and fish habitat near proposed pipelines and power lines. The possible existence of a similar understanding regarding FORCE initiatives in Nova Scotia could explain DFO evading questions about the new turbine’s possible effect on herring.

Like all such development proposals in Canada, Cape Sharp/Emera’s turbine in Minas Passage went through a provincial environmental impact assessment (EIA). This means that the proponent contracted a company that wrote an EIA report. The government then reviewed the paperwork, and approved the application. In some such instances, governments put conditions on approval, but the proponent is responsible for undertaking, monitoring, and reporting on their own compliance. This process is ridiculous. Asking the fox to install security for the henhouse is unacceptable and makes a mockery of the intent and meaning of environmental assessment.

In the past two months, more than 70,000 international and Canadian individuals have signed a petition calling on federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant to address the issue of herring die-offs. On January 3, 2017, an open letter was sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and all these other political leaders, bringing their attention to the petition and asking for a response on key points. To date, none of the aforementioned have responded.

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Bull Kelp on beach, Tofino, B.C. ©Alexandre Robichaud

The system is failing marine life, and us

This environmental crisis has brought to the forefront a host of broader concerns. DFO simply does not seem to be up to the job of protecting marine life. We understand that DFO’s scientific and species/habitat protection mandate is undermined by its multi-pronged mandate. Most significantly, DFO was hard hit by the extreme politicization of science, including restructuring and defunding, that happened during the Harper regime. At that time, scientists were muzzled, protection legislation was gutted, and key programs and personnel terminated.

As mentioned above, EIA processes across Canada do not protect the environment, and other protective legislation was stripped of its powers by the Harper regime. The Justin Trudeau government came into power promising to renew and revitalize Canada’s environmental regulatory system. Standing Committees and panels recently finished consultations on these ravaged laws. Each committee, dealing with each legislation, picked which major cities to visit (or not). All ignored frontline rural areas that are often most impacted by poor regulations. In the online consultation option, the questions funneled towards the interests of big government, not the affected communities. We will be watching to see what these consultations generate.

Left: Humpback whale & friends enjoy herring snack. Cape Bonavista, NL. ©George Griffen   Right: Loon in winter coat, enjoying aneel, Bay of Fundy shore. ©Pix by Mitch

Environmentalist confidence in the Trudeau government further deteriorated with the November announcement of the Ocean Protection Program. Billed as being about proactive protection of the oceans, it prioritizes putting more resources towards clean up costs after anticipated shipping and pipeline accidents on our coasts. This is useful but not “protective,” which means “preventative” or “precautionary.” The Program also touts creation of more marine protected areas. Meanwhile, the very fragile and important Gulf of St. Lawrence is still open for oil and gas exploration where, intentionally or not, the planning processes are going slower than industry is moving.

“Consultation” seems to be the main public relations strategy of the current government. During the regulatory-related consultation processes in Fall 2016, many directly-affected stakeholders lacked resources and capacity to be at all tables and forums. In this vacuum, the Prime Minister recently held a few “pop-up” community town halls to demonstrate his sincere interest in hearing from ordinary Canadians. He was not seen in directly-affected or -threatened rural communities.

When marine life or habitat decimation occurs, other legal and ethical precepts come into play. In the instance of the herringcide, this happened on unceded Mi’kmaq territory. All of Canada is traditional Indigenous territory. The federal government has trustee responsibility for stewardship and protection of the resources, and is required to ensure that future generations of “Aboriginal” or Indigenous Peoples can enjoy their inherent rights to these resources. When profound environmental degradation occurs, the federal government is abrogating its fiduciary duty. Numerous related court cases are already in motion, eating up funds and personnel time that could go towards genuine protection. (See, for example, this link.)

More crises like the herringcide will be commonplace as our climate increasingly crisps and crumbles. Whenever this happens, those with the most direct knowledge of marine environments must be recognized as experts about what is happening in our own backyards: Indigenous traditional knowledge holders, fisherfolk, citizen scientists, naturalists, local environmental advocacy organizations, and ecotourism operators. These experts must be deliberately sought out, and not evaded or fought, by departments and agencies such as Environment and Climate Change Canada, DFO, and provincial departments. We should not have to go to court to keep corporate actions in line with the public good.

The Council of Canadians represents more than 100,000 people across this nation in a network of more than 60 grassroots volunteer-based chapters who work with a wide cross-section of allies. The Council’s volunteers are backed by a national staff of experts. We deserve an opportunity to have the Prime Minister meet with us about meaningful protection of our marine areas.


Published on February 16, 2017 by the Council of Canadians – Kent County NB Chapter.
Contact us at coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com.

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Swallowtail Lighthouse, Grand Manan, NB. ©Deborah Carr

Please Note: we will soon post our letter to the Prime Minister asking for a meeting.
It has already been co-signed by 25 Council of Canadians chapters across the country.