In a recent letter to the national president of the Union of Environmental Workers, Conservative Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield wrote that “there are currently few tools to authorize pollution” and that his government’s new Fisheries Act “will provide flexibility and establish new tools to authorize deposits of deleterious substances.”
In both actions and words, it seems evident that Mr. Ashfield and the Conservative government truly believe that the job of federal legislation and the federal government is to allow for as much pollution and environmental degradation as possible.
Not only have they brought forth a new edition of the Fisheries Act, which whittles away protection for fish habitat, they have also closed or downsized important research facilities such as the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre in B.C. and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia. Certainly one of the most important of the closures and cutbacks being implemented is the closure of the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in northwestern Ontario.
The ELA is a uniquely special research facility that conducts some of the world’s most important and cutting edge research on freshwater ecosystems, informing public policy makers on such issues as acid rain, aquaculture, climate change, mercury pollution, algal blooms and phosphates, and greenhouse gases. No other facility in the world offers scientists the kind of vital long-term research opportunities as the ELA, and as a result, international treaties have been signed, and ecosystems and fisheries have been saved.
Conservatives have said that the ELA is no longer productive and that the work being done there is no longer aligned with departmental priorities.
It is simply unthinkable that these excuses could be given. Much great research is still being done at the ELA, some of it ongoing since its 1968 opening.
One of the three core mandates of DFO is to work toward sustainable aquatic ecosystems. Unless DFO has abandoned that mandate in favour of a mandate to railroad through industrial development at the expense of aquatic ecosystems, the Conservatives’ excuses make absolutely no sense.
The Conservatives say they are trying to find a third party to take over the ELA for a nominal fee of $1. This is nearly impossible, as they have also enacted a moratorium on the NSERC Major Resources Support Program, which would have been the source of funding for universities. It seems certain that no matter what rhetoric comes out of the Conservative caucus, the ELA will most certainly be closed.
This raises a very crucial point — the government of Canada, as per the Canada-Ontario Memorandum of Agreement for the Experimental Lakes Area, has full responsibility to remediate all of the lakes, streams, and watersheds of the ELA in the event of its closure, which could add up to as much as $50 million. This means the Conservative government is willing to spend an additional $50 million when the closure of the ELA will only net $2 million.
It is quite obvious that this government is not shutting down the ELA as a cost-cutting measure but as a part of its all-out attack on any science and environmental research which will get in the way of its neoconservative views on climate change and industrial development.
Fisheries and Oceans critic
Liberal Party of Canada
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 4, 2012