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Harper accused of tossing harbour fish under budget bus

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

The executive director of Environment Hamilton says she fears fish in the city’s watersheds will no longer be considered important enough to protect under changes proposed by Ottawa’s omnibus budget bill.

Lynda Lukasik said the Conservative government’s budget legislation makes changes to the Fisheries Act that could have “profound” consequences on efforts to delist Hamilton Harbour as a Great Lakes area of concern.

“The federal government is effectively saying that the only kind of fishery that’s important is one that’s commercial, recreational or has some significance for aboriginal communities,” she told a press conference on Friday.

“Where does that leave us as we work toward revitalizing our watershed? Apparently in the federal government’s view, none of what we’ve got here in Hamilton is significant enough to warrant protection at the federal level.”

Environment Hamilton is one of several local groups that will darken their websites on Monday to protest what they say is a move by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to gut environmental protections and stifle democratic dissent.

Don McLean of Citizens at City Hall said the full impact of the budget bill will only become clear when regulations are enacted to bring it into effect, but the overall thrust is to reduce public transparency and input.

Like Lukasik, he said he’s concerned Fisheries Act changes will make it harder to protect local fish, including from a nasty organic compound known as perfluorooctane sulfonate acid, or PFOS, that is leaking into waterways from the Hamilton airport.

“When you don’t protect the fish, you don’t protect the water they live in,” McLean said. “None of the fish matter in Hamilton, according to the new act, and that means Hamilton Harbour doesn’t matter, as far as I can see.”

Elysia Petrone of Hamilton 350.org, a group dedicated to creating climate-change awareness, said the budget bill makes more than 100 changes to environmental laws, in many cases to help “powerful oil interests.”

Changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, for instance, weaken federal oversight and allow the public less say on projects like the proposed pipeline that will ship oil from Alberta to the west coast for export, she said.

The bill also repeals acts that commit Ottawa to combat climate change and ensure economic growth is environmentally sustainable, she added.

“This budget law is a blatant violation of democracy,” Petrone said, also citing concerns the National Energy Board will now be exempt from species-at-risk legislation.

Mary Long, president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council, said the budget bill “fundamentally alters the approach to environmental policy” in Canada and people should be disgusted by the refusal to break up the bill to allow debate on controversial components.

She said a proposal to ensure projects are only subjected to only one environmental assessment – either federal or provincial – is worth debating, but the Conservatives refuse to do so.

“It needs to be debated and studied. What are the tradeoffs required to make it work for all interested parties? What are the pitfalls?” said Long, who urged people to call local Conservative MPs David Sweet and Dean Allison to protest the bill.

“This change should be subject to its own study by parliamentary committee and debate in the House of Commons. Discussion at finance committee is not adequate.”

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