Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cracks in the Marble: JRs, NAFTA and 30,000 Signatures

Politics and politicians: can't live with them, can't ignore them.

Recently the Senate voted down a proposal to ban the seal hunt; not a single vote was cast in favour of the motion. Regardless of your position on seal hunting* the vote itself speaks to the political situation between Conservatives and Liberals. No Liberal senator wants to give the Conservatives any means of eroding their support in rural Canada, and vice versa.

Similarly, when the Conservatives lumped the Navigable Waters Protection Act in with the Bill C-10 budget implementation "to streamline the approval process"-- read "build bridges and buildings to prop up the economy without worrying about damage to habitat"-- the Liberals were unable to change it.

Michael Ignatieff wrote back to concerned citizens the following:
"As you are aware, there are a number of measures contained in Bill C-10 with which the Liberal Opposition is not satisfied. We would have preferred that measures concerning our navigable waters be tabled as a separate piece of legislation....

Unfortunately, the government has deliberately placed these in the budget bill, making them matters of confidence. This means that any changes to the bill would result in the government calling an election which would, in turn, delay any potential stimulus measures for months to come. With thousands of Canadians losing their jobs every day, the Liberal Opposition has determined that the responsible thing to do for this country is to get that money working in our economy."
(For Rafe Mair's insight on the gutting of the Navigable Waters Act, go here.)

So given the ping-pong match between hamstrung Liberals and Conservatives who know that hard economic times make it easy to gut ecological safeguards, what kind of pressure can we hope to exert on the federal government to save wild fish?

S0metimes there are some cracks in the slabstone edifices of power where a well-placed crowbar can do a lot of good. I'd say Alexandra Morton's recent lawsuit proves that (see previous posts).

The current political situation may be full of such cracks, but I'm not sure where they are. One reader suggests taking a page from the folks at Mining Watch-- who initiated one against former Environment Minister John Baird-- and launching a Judicial Review against the current DFO Minister. Or, he writes, "use NAFTA's chapter 13 or 14 (?) to report that a your country (ministry responsible) has failed to uphold or enforce their environmental laws."

Maybe these are the kind of ideas we need to consider to protect wild fish.

Alexandra Morton says we need at least 30,000 signatures on her petition-- she had over 4,600 at last count, 3,700 of which were from BC--to get Ottawa's attention. That seems like a good place to start.

* Terry Glavin makes some good points in his article on the seal hunt. He's right: if you're willing to eat factory-farmed steak, the moral distinctions between killing seals and killing cows are dubious. We've all seen the pictures of the cute seals and the bloody ice. But how many of us have seen pictures from the inside of a slaughterhouse?

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