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MLA REPORT: Government mismanagement endangering health of Salish Sea

Feds attempting to shift power from Transport Canada to Vancouver port authority
Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands. (Black Press Media file photo)

By Adam Olsen

MLA, Saanich North and the Islands

I am deeply concerned about the health and well-being of the Salish Sea.

The Government of Canada has proven to be incapable of managing our marine environment. It’s unlikely their intention, but together Environment Canada, Transport Canada, and Department of Fisheries and Oceans are successfully overseeing the demise of the WSANEC territory. Only Parks Canada has shown recently a desire for improvement, transforming episodic consultations into actual relationship building.

One of the first big issues I confronted as a councillor in the District of Central Saanich in 2008 was the multi-jurisdictional swamp that governs the waters around our communities. The province owns the land below the water, and they grant limited power to municipalities to make “land” use decisions. The federal government controls the surface and the water column. First Nations have unrealized inherent rights and jurisdiction. It’s a total mess that often results in finger-pointing and administrative gridlock.

The result of the dysfunctional relationships is evident. The WSANEC territory once bubbled with wild Pacific salmon and herring, and the beaches were alive with shellfish. In about 100 years, federal government policy empowered industrial resource harvesting practices that reduced stocks to near extinction. Provincial government policy enabled industrial logging practices that destroyed the creeks and streams in the interior of the province. Local governments zoned industrial, commercial, agricultural, and residential development choking the rivers and shorelines. The cumulative impact of all the decisions has had devastating consequences for the biodiversity of the Salish Sea.

Federal policy is attempting to minimize the noise of large vessels to protect the endangered southern resident killer whales who are thankfully also free from the near-constant harassment of the whale watchers. However, the federal effort concentrates attention on the other families of killer whales (transient and outside orcas), who aren’t so lucky, they are relentlessly chased and distressed while foraging and raising their young.

The federal government continues to lay waste to the territory, approving the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 container port expansion proposed by the Vancouver-Fraser Port Authority, and also attempting to shift the power of anchorage decisions in the Southern Gulf Islands from Transport Canada to the port. Transport Canada’s consultations are more appropriately characterized as notifications, with inherent Indigenous rights all but invisible to federal bureaucrats who maintain total control of the information and process as they rush to the approval of their predetermined outcome.

At the same time as Transport Canada is pretending the port will do a better job of managing the movement of large vessels, they are simultaneously demonstrating total incompetence in managing and enforcing their own regulations for morning buoys for small vessels. As access to stable housing is increasingly difficult, naturally more people are living on boats in the sheltered bays and inlets near the services. Enforcement of mooring buoy and holding tank regulations is non-existent on our coast leading to a proliferation of pollution and community conflict.

We are not on a good course. The federal government has ignored my pleas, and the pleas of my colleagues of all political stripes from federal, provincial, local and First Nations governments. We receive the minister’s responses reassuring us that all is well. We know that is far from the case, and that we are in desperate need of a new marine management regime on the South Coast of British Columbia.

Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands.

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