MLA pushes to re-start talks on Salish Sea

Saanich North and the Islands MLA Gary Holman joined a discussion panel in Oak Bay last month during Orca Awareness Month events.

Organizers of June’s Orca Awareness Month showed what they collected from a Victoria-area beach.

Quietly, a B.C. and Ottawa agreement to look into creating a National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) for the southern Strait of Georgia, has stalled — and now there’s a small push to have those talks resume.

Saanich North and the Islands MLA Gary Holman and his NDP counterpart from Port Alberni, Scott Fraser, co-signed a letter last month, urging both levels of government to meet with First Nations and get talking again — 13 years after both B.C. and Ottawa signed a memorandum of understanding on the matter.

“It has been a concept for around 20 years,” Holman said in an interview. “And it’s seen as a compliment to the (existing) Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.”

Holman joined a discussion panel in Oak Bay last month during Orca Awareness Month events. His presentation was on the NMCA   — and the idea of transferring Crown lands to Ottawa to form a national jurisdiction that would encompass the souther Gulf Islands to waters around Greater Victoria. The purpose, Holman said, is to better protect marine habitat both on the surface and under the water. While it would not immediately cut off access or vessel traffic, Holman said such a designation could do a better job of protecting species in that region of the Strait of Georgia — or Salish Sea.

Holman added the concept has the support in principle of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s on board,” he said. “It’s a positive change of attitude.”

Such a proposal would have to balance the needs of the environment, area First Nations and industry, such as shipping and commercial fishing, he continued. Key to its success — should governments resume their talks — is including around 19 First Nations whose traditional territories are affected or covered within the proposed NMCA. Holman pointed to the example of Gwaii Haanas marine area, which was made a NMCA in 2010 with the co-operation of the Council of the Haida Nation. Holman said it’s an example of co-operative resource and cultural management and only works with the involvement and consent of the First Nations in that region.

Holman said he hopes talking about the NMCA for the Salish Sea will help reboot the talks.

“I think we need to point the way. And in so doing, create economic activity at the same time. You cannot have fishing without fish and you can’t have whale watching and other tourism activity without a healthy ocean.”

Holman noted in his presentation that the federal Liberal government has committed to increase marine conservation areas to five per cent of Canada’s oceans by 2017 and 10 per cent by 2020. He added Parks Canada has “recently hired staff to … revitalize the NMCA planning process.”

“It’s the right thing to do for this area.”