Bill C-68, which will modernize Canada’s Fisheries Act, is in the final, critical stages of the legislative process. After three years of public engagement, consultation with diverse stakeholders and interests, and deliberation by elected officials, we have a strong bill that goes a long way to delivering on the mandate issued by the Prime Minister to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to “restore lost protections and introduce modern safeguards” to the Fisheries Act.
Soon to be under review by the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, Bill C-68 introduces the most progressive changes to Canada’s Fisheries Act in half a century. In anticipation of the review, a group of over 20 environmental and conservation organizations from across the country submitted a brief to the Senate Committee to share our key interests and concerns, and - most importantly - to urge the Committee to undertake its work as quickly as possible. The clock is ticking down on this Parliament and it is critical that policy makers in Ottawa deliver on this unprecedented opportunity to modernize one of Canada’s oldest and most important environmental laws.
Our brief, titled Sustaining healthy fisheries, waters and economies, proposes minor amendments to strengthen provisions dealing with rebuilding of depleted fish stocks and improving habitat banking. But the main focus is on defending one of the most important modernizations in the Bill: addition of the “quantity, timing and quality of water flows” – what we in the freshwater community know as environmental flows – to the definition of fish habitat. Some industry and agricultural organizations are calling for this change to be removed from the Bill, arguing that it will mean that municipal water pipes, rainwater running off of city streets or farm fields, or even puddles, may now be designated as fish habitat. This is not what the science of environmental flows entails, nor is it the intent of the updates to the law. The changes simply reflect what we have long understood: fish live in a three-dimensional world, and cannot use a spawning habitat or feeding ground if it is not covered with the right amount of clean water at the right time of year.
We expect the Senate Committee to begin hearings on Bill C-68 in early April. That leaves only three short months for Senators and MPs to work together to get the legislation to the finish line before the Parliament rises in June for the last time before the fall election.