B.C. MP says feds need to move faster on fisheries legislation

The now-ruling federal Liberal Party campaigned on a promise to restore fish and fisheries protections rolled back under the Conservatives. That restoration hasn't happened yet, and an NDP MP wants to know why.

Government says it is committed to restoring protections, needs time to 'get these changes right'

The Fraser River sockeye fishery has been closed since July after low early returns. (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward)

While the federal government is taking public input on potential changes to the Fisheries Act, the NDP fisheries critic says those changes aren't coming soon enough.

The government is reviewing amendments made in 2012 by the then-ruling Conservatives that rolled back fish habitat protections and environmental assessment laws.

During the 2015 federal election, the Liberal Party campaigned on a promise to "review these changes, restore lost protections and incorporate more modern safeguards."

"Those promises have not been kept. We're two years into a federal Liberal mandate and still, we're under the Harper Fisheries Act," Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly told On The Coast guest host Michelle Eliot.

"All processes need time but certainly when there's a promise made by a party that knew full well what changes needed to be made … it should not take you two years."

Can't point to any projects sped up by changes

Donnelly says the 2012 changes to the act put the regulatory focus on preventing "serious harm" rather than habitat destruction, which he says made it more difficult to protect fish.

"It's really hard to prove a pipeline or a bridge, or a building, or a road killed that fish in that creek," he said. "You're making it much harder to prove a project is impacting a fishery."

Donnelly was on the standing committee on fisheries when the 2012 changes were made and said committee members were pressured to fast-track the changes for the Conservatives' "pro-pipeline agenda." When they would not, the changes were rolled into an omnibus budget bill.

Donnelly says the changes ultimately did not speed up pipeline approvals, but he remains critical of the current federal government for approving Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion before restoring protections to the Fisheries Act.

Government reaffirms commitment

Fisheries and Oceans Canada responded in a statement saying the government was committed to restoring the protections in the Fisheries Act that were removed in 2012.

"We need to make sure that we get these changes right, which takes time," the statement read.

"Listening to the views of Canadians is at the core of the review: we are consulting extensively with all Canadians, including scientists, environmentalists, Indigenous peoples, industry partners and small business owners, to get their input on the changes we will be making to the legislation that protects our shared aquatic resources."

Donnelly says the government can take interim steps during the consultation.

"At least restore it to the 2012 cuts," he said. "And then, if you want to consult and go broader and modernize the act, then, absolutely, you could do that and spend the time."

The federal government is collecting input into possible changes to the Fisheries Act online.

Listen to the full interview:

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast