Former Fisheries ministers lash out at federal budget bill 

both Liberal and Conservative ex-ministers express concerns for habitat preservation

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LEGISLATION FRUSTRATION Whistler resident and former Conservative Fisheries Minister John Fraser is concerned Bill C-38 is going to weaken laws in place to protect salmon habitat like the kind found along the Cheakamus River.

It isn't often that former government ministers get together to work on an issue. This is exactly what is happening as the federal government prepares to pass Bill C-38, an omnibus bill that rolls a number of items into one broad budget bill.

Whistler resident John Fraser has teamed up with fellow former Conservative Fisheries and Oceans Minister Tom Siddon, Liberal David Anderson and Liberal Herb Dhaliwal to pen a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to share their concerns about the bill and the process being used to pass it. Environmental groups from across Canada have joined the four former ministers to protest the contents of Bill C-38. Dozens of politically active websites went dark on Monday, June 4 to protest the changes the bill will bring to the country.

The former ministers and the conservation groups fear that if the bill goes ahead, salmon and steelhead will be put at risk because their habitat won't be adequately protected.

"With respect to process, we find it troubling that the government is proposing to amend the Fisheries Act via omnibus budget legislation in a manner that we believe will inevitably reduce and weaken the habitat protection provisions," the four ministers wrote in the letter to the PM.

Fraser said he is a Conservative and supports his party, but as a former politician and lawyer he described what his party is doing with Bill C-38 as "absolute bloody nonsense."

Bill C-38 is primarily a budget bill, and Fraser said the omnibus bill tactic being used by the ruling Conservatives is inappropriate. In his opinion, Bill C-38 should be split so the parts of the bill that don't relate to finance can be debated separately.

According to Fraser, if Bill C-38 goes ahead then the Fisheries Act and other acts of parliament will be weakened to the detriment of Canada's environment.

While he praised the work of Conservative MP John Weston, the Sea to Sky representative in Ottawa, Fraser lashed out at Premier Christy Clark.

"Why isn't Premier Christie Clark raising hell about this?" Fraser asked.

He said Clark is not doing her duty by not questioning the federal government's unpopular proposed legislation.

"We're not attacking John Weston," said Fraser. "John Weston, I think, is doing his duty as a member of parliament by listening to us."

Fraser added that Weston has conveyed their concerns to government.

In an interview from Ottawa, Weston said he is taking Fraser's concerns very seriously. "Things like fisheries and environmental issues should not be partisan issues," said Weston. "They should be issues where we gather the best insights and look for the most optimal outcomes."

He also added that he and many Canadians are concerned with how governments share jurisdictions. According to Weston, uncertainty around jurisdiction and definitions of what constitutes fish habitats is impacting development.

"Most people I'm talking to understand that we need to end some of the wasteful duplication of effort across jurisdictions," Weston said.

The MP said Bill C-38 has raised concerns from two fronts: substance and process. "I get the concerns about process," said Weston. "I want our government to be known as one which values input and listens to stakeholders."

To that end, Weston said issues around fisheries, environment and natural resources in Bill C-38 were discussed in 18 hours of committee meetings attended by Ministers of State.

"I think we could have done a lot better in communicating what we are doing on the substance and communicating the process," Weston said. "The constant bane of government, even good government, is that it may be doing great things but if its not communicating well then its not perceived to be governing well, and we deserve to be chided for not communicating well."

Weston said he believes the substance of what is intended and the process will ultimately improve fisheries legislation while reducing wasteful duplication of jurisdiction and inter-jurisdictional conflicts.

The Senate is currently reviewing the legislation.

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